The Customer in CRM – Going Social?

In between the technical concerns of deploying a CRM System such as Dynamics CRM there is always the wider more important strategy of how a company incorporates a CRM Solution (of which the system is but a part of) into their business – and this strategy obviously has aims or expected benefits that come from the changes involved.

Often these aims have looked inward to a business and as a result focused on the Business User Experience of a CRM Solution, however a strongly implemented CRM Solution should also focus on the other key part of a business, the Customer.

This post aims to look at how the Customer may have changed in the recent past and how this may affect the Analysis and Design of a CRM Solution in terms of examining the Customer Experience hand-in-hand with the User Experience.

The rise of a social product

Often in today’s culture customers have a concept of not simply buying a ticket or going to an event – but buying into the event, the social nature of whatever that event is.  This may sound superfluous – but if we look at how the world has changed with the advent of the network providing instant easy access to almost everyone:

– How many people go to the cinema to watch a film and then check out other people’s thoughts and comments on the film the next day? Not just limited to traditional reviews of the film, but comments on people’s reactions to the film – often mostly from their social circle of online friends but also from other random sources.

– How many people now regularly post what gigs or festivals they are attending, and then use replies or apps to then guide what they will do when they are there.

– Not to mention the number of people who will update their Status to register that a particular product or purchase has arrived, or to detail a particularly good (or bad!) experience they have had with a brand or company.

Essentially people (or customers) have always done this and discussed events or products with their friends or family, giving rise to the power of word of mouth marketing and the ability for customers to trust products or suppliers based on this word of mouth.

Going Social is a bit of a myth, people have always been social and naturally enough taken that into how they buy products and services.

However the advent of social media has given us all new channels to communicate this word of mouth, and in a way define ourselves via certain experiences, products and brands that we associate with.

Often when I have read about these applications of Social Media in the past I have been quite sceptical about whether people actually engage or want to engage on these points – however I think the rise of Web 2.0 (which is now almost old-hat, but I guess that is the point in a way!) with the mainstream adoption of Facebook, Twitter and Mobile Apps have changed people’s perceptions on these points.

Having worked in ‘old-style’ Sales and Event environments where our promotion of products was largely limited to traditional outlets (face-to-face, leaflets and so on) – it has become increasingly common for customers to expect and want more active social promotion than I have seen in the past; I found customers wanting an event to be something that is worth buying into, and so something that already has that social presence that they can spread to their friends/followers as a way of identifying themselves.

In a way this is how we might define the outcome of the Customer Experience that the customer has with our service or product, essentially the result of the relationship between us as the supplier and the customer.  This relationship being at the heart of CRM as a strategy for our business.

Where is the Customer in CRM?

What this aims to describe is the ‘Customer Experience’ or how the Customer relates to a particular Product or Service which should in theory be at the heart of what Customer Relationship Management is all about – the understanding and possible facilitation in how Customers relate to a Product or Service.

However if we look at many of our CRM Projects today, how many of them look into the idea of how the Customer looks at the business’s product? Often CRM Projects largely focus on automating or assisting a business’s internal processes – sometimes the goal being simply to improve existing processes via more sophisticated technology.

(how many times have we seen the requirement to replace X, Y. Z legacy system to avoid £30,000 support costs a year say; or to produce a all-singing all-dancing system that integrates better to reduce data re-entry?)

There is obviously nothing wrong with these projects, saving money and being more efficient as a business is a good aim – however are these really CRM-focused projects, is the customer at the heart of these projects or simply a concept described through the more important needs of the business.

In a way these are more Business Process Improvement projects that happen to use a CRM Application to achieve their results – you might use Dynamics CRM to give the Sales Team a standardised process that then feeds Order information to the back-end ERP system to allow Invoice statuses to be visible to the front-office as well as the back-office, but where is the customer in that project brief?

Am not sure that defining terms such as ‘what is real CRM’ is particularly helpful – however the following points may be useful when asking the question ‘where do your customers fit into this project?’ as opposed to CRM being purely focused on the requirements of the business rather than the requirements of the customers:

– When does the Customer interact with this business process

– Is the Customer interacted with (you to them), or do you expect the customer to interact with you? (them to you)

– What channels do you use or expect the Customer to interact with you throughout the process.

– Does the Customer know where they are with you at different stages in the process?  And if so, how?

There is a lot of fluff and hype around social media and terms like Customer Experience which can sometimes be unhelpful in understanding how a business might actually benefit and ultimately make money from these sometimes abstract concepts – however as CRM Consultants running workshops with different businesses, I think it is useful to think along these lines and frame questions away from ‘what are your requirements for a CRM Solution’ and more ‘what are the requirements that your customer has of you’ and then for us to provide the solution that delivers these customer-focused requirements.  In a way this dove-tails with the common (and crucial) concept of providing a User Experience for a new CRM System, but in a way that provides a Customer Experience as part of how a CRM Solution fits into the business.

Obviously the customers may never see or interact with the actual CRM System, but their experience of the business is obviously a crucial part of the CRM Solution that the system is a part of.

Does this Customer Experience really matter?

Whilst the idea of managing a customer experience towards building a better relationship is a good natural idea for a business – does this idea actually translate into higher sales in a real-world sense, and if so how can we actually ‘prove’ this to validate the idea.  Marketing Departments everywhere know the problem of convincing budget-holders that their efforts produce tangible sales from the back of brand promotion and other indirect channels.

In a sense more modern technologies allow us to roughly measure the benefits of the relationship that a customer has to us as the business – Twitter/Facebook hashtags, followers and other factors give us more tangible metrics that can be captured within a CRM Solution to give us a feel for the strength and productivity of a relationship.

To give a practical feel for this, I imagine a baseline of factors to capture might be the following:

– Relationship Strength, to describe how we perceive the customer relates to our business.

– Influence Rating, to describe the customer’s likely ability to influence other customers within the market.

– Network Rating, how well networked is a particular customer.  This can overlap with a customer’s level of influence but is essentially a different attribute given that a customer can be well-networked but not a strong influencer.

– Purchase Strength, how much purchasing power does the customer bring to our business – this factor may (and should) be known by CRM itself as opposed to external connections to Social Media but can then be compared against the strength of the Relationship and level of Influence.

These factors are not new and have been previously captured within CRM Solutions, but the rise of Social Media allows us a more direct method of collecting this data – even to automatically harvesting the number of mentions or updates concerning our business or product directly from Twitter or other media via CRM integrated with the media’s API.

The strength here being the ability for CRM Solutions to crawl Social Media alongside the usual manual factors and automatically give a score to a customer as way of identifying key customers that act as advocates or influencers for your brand.

Conclusion

Obviously many of these concepts are not new and have been discussed at some length with the now wide-spread use of Facebook, Twitter and others; but I believe these ideas have come of age now to the point where these are practical concerns for many businesses and deserve incorporation into our thoughts and designs for CRM Solutions – particularly in the Business-to-Consumer market which is increasingly cut-throat with the recessionary climate we find ourselves in, and the ability to build a strong brand that customers want to be a part of provides a powerful tool in resisting recessionary pressures.

Am always minded to remember that many businesses across the world are run (and sometimes very successfully) on a mish-mash of Excel Spreadsheets a million miles removed from these concepts, and often our initial brief as CRM Consultants and Project Managers is to simply consolidate these into a CRM Database, but I think that these concepts should increasingly find a place in the wider CRM Strategy we should be advising for a business.

Am a huge advocate of properly thinking through the User Experience for the Analysis and Design of CRM Solutions as I have seen many specifications which concentrate purely on the technical implications of a design without reference to the end-user, and I think defining the Customer Experience of the CRM Solution is now becoming just as important to creating a successful project.

And above all after a weighty 1500 words or so – Happy 2012 to everyone reading this!  After a heady wait since 2005, the Olympics are coming to my corner of the world very soon now!

References / Interesting Reading

There is many great references on how Social Media interacts with CRM, the following is a small list that I have found a good read on the topic without losing sight of the day-to-day reality of business:

How should firms adapt to serve the channel agnostic customer? – MyCustomer.Com

http://www.mycustomer.com/topic/customer-intelligence/how-should-firms-restructure-channel-agnostic-customer/126641

CRM 2012 Forecast – The Era of Customer Engagement – Paul Greenberg, ZDNet

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/crm/crm-2012-forecast-the-era-of-customer-engagement-part-i/3753?tag=search-results-rivers;item0

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2 Responses to The Customer in CRM – Going Social?

  1. This is an excellent post. I feel that the field of CRM is moving into two separate directions simultaneously: 1) improving knowledge worker efficiency through internal collaboration tools (focus on the user, not top-down processes like in the 90’s), and 2) involving the customer as an active participant in the marketing & service processes through social network integration (instead of a passive object of the company’s activities). What this means in practice is that the variety of CRM projects keeps expanding, as even different user groups within the organization can have such different expectations of and requirements to what their new CRM solution should deliver.

  2. I just came across your post and have been analysis along. I thought I would go my first remark. I don’t know what to say excluding that I have enjoyed reading. Nice post, I will stay visiting this blog very frequently.http://nahrs.in

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