Finding The “CRM” In Social CRM

Social CRM (SCRM) is an overused buzz word among software vendors and companies alike. One of the problems this creates is that it has become very difficult to properly define exactly what constitutes SCRM and what doesn’t. The more I read, the more I think some additional perspective is needed. While it’s convenient to toss “CRM” at the end of “Social” to allude to the fact that there is some sort of customer-oriented strategy behind social media, the reality is few people that use the term consider any kind of actual CRM in the traditional sense.

The CRM angle—Customer Relationship Management—is being dramatically overshadowed by the social angle. For two decades, CRM has focused on organizing and analyzing customer data in a way that allows companies to better engineer the customer experience. But when defining SCRM, the emphasis tends to be on: “social,” “user driven,” “crowd source,” “collaboration,” and “community,” often in a vacuum. Organizing and analyzing customer data is, at best, an afterthought.

The crazy thing is, social media provides companies with more and better data than ever before about customers’ behaviours, preferences, identities, and emotion, and yet most vendors seem to ignore this altogether. Instead, they focus on social interactions; how customers and prospects are using social media to raise their voices and influence our brands. The mantra is, “look out, the customer is in control!” I guess it’s true that fear sells better than opportunity. But if you’re content simply with enabling listening (i.e. social media brand monitoring) and conversation capabilities and calling it SCRM, I think you’re missing the point.

Lauren Carlson recently wrote a post for The Software Advice Blog that highlights the growth of Social CRM and also provides some case examples of companies that are using different tools. (For those interested, also check out our own Moxie Software which is missing from the list of examples.) What I found most interesting about Lauren’s post was the breadth of use cases—everything from internal collaboration, to contact center chat for agents, to Yammer has made it into the SCRM bucket. Not a single example talks about data integration.

Some people are saying SCRM should be about socializing CRM internally. In a recent Forbes post, Rawn Shaw discusses how SCRM is also about “how employees within a company can collaborate or socialize what they know about customers.” What I like about this approach is that it at least touches on the idea of better integrating internal customer processes. Unfortunately, in this context, we are replacing the words “Social CRM” with the word “collaboration,” which again makes the scope of SCRM too broad. From a practical perspective, using a broad “collaboration” definition makes it very difficult to have a meaningful conversation about requirements, compare vendors, establish metrics, and develop frameworks for implementation. From a conceptual perspective, breaking down internal customer and channel silos is an important part of SCRM, but breaking down data silos is critical to enable this.

Paul Greenberg’s Tweetable definition of SCRM—”The company’s response to the customer’s control of the conversation”—is often cited as a succinct and useful description of the concept. While I might argue that the definition is also too broad, I like that it alludes to the fact that companies can respond to the so-called “customer control” of the brand. But again, this will not happen by simply monitoring social interactions (see my thoughts on why the customer is not in control).

We’ve conducted a variety of research at nGenera Insight that talks about how to regain control of the conversation and the brand while at the same time creating a strategy for a much more integrated customer experience. While social interactions are certainly a necessary part of this strategy, they do not by themselves constitute Social CRM. As I noted last year in A Future Vision of CRM, “What CRM is in desperate need of is new data sources and tools that help integrate and analyze this data.” Note: the emphasis on customer data, much of which is unstructured, but still needs to be integrated into enterprise systems. Other elements like the technology platform, channel strategy, and cultural mindset are also very important, but do not exist independently of customer data.

If I could lend my own Tweetable perspective, it would be: “SCRM is the integration of social media data with existing customer best practices.”

In fact, I think Paul is bang-on with his thoughts on The New Customer Record. He talks about the need to add unstructured data from social media into enterprise customer records—things like user profiles from social networking sites, information posted on forums and in comments, data about the individual from third-party sites, information about key influencers within communities, and increasingly, location and behavioral data gleaned from mobile devices. In my mind, this should be the main focus of SCRM as we move into 2011.

By now, I think most forward-thinking companies understand the importance of being involved in social media—what we really need to push forward on is integrating, analyzing, and using the vast amounts of data generated in these channels to improve the customer experience. Without these back-end capabilities, companies are going to have a very difficult time actually managing customer relationships in a social media world.

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Naumi Haque has more than a decade of experience in the research and advisory industry. Naumi has been at the forefront of customer experience management, recently arguing that enterprises need an integrated customer experience strategy to meet customer expectations. He has conducted research and provided thought leadership on a wide variety of topics related to emerging technology and business innovation, including: social media strategy, customer experience, next generation marketing, enterprise collaboration, open innovation, digital identity, new sources of enterprise data, and disruptive web-enabled business models. He received his MBA and his Honors in Business Administration from the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business.