Social CRM is Not a Bolt-On; It’s a Transformation

by francine Hardaway on October 20, 2010

Brands are rushing to social media, and especially to social CRM. We should all worry about this. Social CRM should be grass roots, not astro-turf, or else at some point, we may all feel stalked by brands we used to love, because not everyone wants to be friended by a brand, and there’s a limit to how many brands you can engage with if you are a person with a life. To be effective, social CRM should be far more subtle than reaching for leads and having the marketing department stalk them on social networks

You can’t bolt social media on to a company any more than you can bolt on customer service, or for that matter, corporate culture. Companies are either social, or they aren’t.

But here’s how you might be able to begin a social CRM strategy: empower the people you pay the least to engage the most. The people who already have the relationships with the customers.

That’s not the marketing people. ¬†It may be the contact center staff, the people who are already being called by confused or disgruntled customers. For most of my business life, I have believed that those customer facing people — restaurant hosteses, people in retail sales, flight attendants, customer service center people, baristas, and office receptionists are at the forefront of how a business is perceived and whether it will be successful. Starbucks provides a model for this, and so does Southwest Air.

These people, who are usually paid the least, are actually the lead generators for the entire business, and should be treated like the gold they are. Which may mean investing in some social media training for them and giving them some unscripted responsibility.

Even in health care, a field in which I know more than I know about, say, call centers, when research is conducted about whether patients think a physician is qualified or competent, or “good,” the evaluations always hinge on how the phone is answered, how the front office waiting room handles scheduling, and how people are treated as people, rather than as patients. Read how many Yelp reviews deal with service — more than with the quality of the medical care (about which most consumers aren’t equipped to judge) or the dinner. Even reviews like “the food was cold,” are more about service than product.

Many companies should flip their compensation structures and pay the lowest paid customer-facing people higher than the CEO. Yes, I know that’s controversial, but I am trying to make a point. Why do people stop buying from Dell? Lousy customer service. Why do people stop eating at a restaurant? Long waits or bad service.

It’s seldom about the product; it is always about the service, which means it is about people and relationships. Which means you can’t drop social media on to one part of the company, especially marketing or sales. ¬†Engagement with your brand can start almost anywhere, and that’s why social CRM is a corporate transformation rather than a marketing tactic.

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