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I didn’t realize it until this week, but there still seems to be some confusion about Social CRM in certain business circles. Let’s fix that right now.

(Before you get too excited, Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization won’t be followed by Social CRM: The Complete Guide to the Obvious. We can take care of this right here and without the need for another 299 pages of examples and how-tos.)

This is how the discussion started: Neville Hobson (@jangles on Twitter) asked Edelman Digital’s Chuck Hemann (@chuckhemann) and I what we thought of Esteban Kolsky’s (@ekolsky) definition of Social CRM yesterday. The definition, as it appears below, comes from this piece on Neville’s blog, dated 9 May 2011, following Luke Brynley-Jones‘ Social CRM 2011 event in London:

[…] The closest best definition on the day came from  Esteban Kolsky in his presentation on “Three Reasons You Will Do Social CRM”:

[Social] CRM is a philosophy and a business strategy, supported by a system and a technology, designed to improve human interaction in a business environment.

It’s a start. A good start, even, but while I don’t disagree with the definition completely (and here I must apologize to Esteban for what follows), it misses the mark twice:

First, CRM is neither a philosophy nor a business strategy, but a business function. CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management. (Emphasis on management: A function.) So before we do anything else, the definition should be changed to this:

[Social] CRM is a business function supported by a system and a technology, designed to improve human interaction in a business environment.

Second, the definition is far too vague about what the system and technology actually do. And because it is vague and doesn’t actually provide a clear explanation of what the technology does, it fails as a definition. We have to go a little further if we want to make it work.

Let’s begin with the last part and maybe we can find a way to whip it into something more helpful: “Designed to improve human interaction in a business environment.” What does that mean? The telephone is designed to improve human interactions in a business environment. So are email and memos. Faxes, IMs, SMS, blogs, video-conferencing and high tech conference rooms and work spaces all perform the same function. What differentiates SCRM from any other collaboration tool? is it even a collaboration tool?

You see how already, something crucial is missing.

If we want to look at the definition of SCRM in the context of company-customer relations, then we must include that element in the definition. Let’s see what that looks like:

[Social] CRM is a business function supported by a system and a technology, designed to improve human interaction between companies and consumers in a business environment.

Okay, that’s a little better. But we still aren’t there. We’ve established that CRM is a business function. We don’t need the final four words of the definition. In fact, they are incorrect as the expansion of CRM into the social space blurs the line between business environments and non-business environments. Our definition now becomes:

[Social] CRM is a business function supported by a system and a technology, designed to improve human interaction between companies and consumers.

Now we are getting somewhere. The definition is far less vague than it was before. We are starting to see what the aim of CRM is… but it still isn’t entirely clear, is it. What kinds of human interactions are we talking about? Is SCRM a customer service tool? A technical support tool? A marketing tool? What sets it apart from communications tools, which also improve human interactions between companies and customers?

We need to dig deeper.

Let’s start with the obvious: What is the difference between CRM and SCRM?

CRM collects data on consumers so that customer service reps and salespeople can look up their purchase history, billing history, complaint history, and any other information pertaining to their interactions with your company. It allows you to serve them better when they call with a question or problem, and it also allows you to better target them when the marketing department cranks up the budget furnaces. That’s what CRM does. It focuses on what consumers do with your company and allows you to use that information.

Social CRM (SCRM) aims to bring a whole new data set to traditional CRM by linking customers’ social data to their transaction data. What does that mean? Well, it means is that in addition to what traditional CRM tells you about these customers, SCRM also adds what they do outside of their relationship with your company: Where they go, what they like, what they share, what they search for, what they talk about, etc. by collecting that data from social networking platforms like Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube, Foursquare and many more.

Fig.1: CRM view

Fig.2: SCRM view

Social CRM takes traditionalCRM and injects it with what can be best described as lifestyle data, human data, broader cultural and behavioral data. You are no longer limited to observing your customers in a controlled environment. You can now observe them in their natural habitat and understand him better.

It also gives you insights into whether or not specific customers talk positively or negatively about you, or not at all. It allows you to map their connections and affiliations. It allows you to understand their beliefs and behaviors better. It gives context to what they do in the tiny narrow bandwidth in which you interact with them as a business. It pulls back the curtain on what makes customers tick.

What SCRM promises to do is combine customers’ transaction data (what you already had access to through your traditional CRM system) with their social/lifestyle data (which they publish to the social web). Imagine the depth of insights this will yield.

So let’s come back to our definition problem. We left things at:

[Social] CRM is a business function supported by a system and a technology, designed to improve human interaction between companies and consumers.

We need to add what we just talked about:

[Social] CRM is a business function supported by a system and a technology, designed to improve human interaction between companies and consumers by connecting customers transaction data with the lifestyle data they share online.

The “improve human interactions” piece seems redundant now. The “technology” piece might also be too complex now to rely on just one. Let’s try that again:

[Social] CRM is a business function supported by a system and technologies whose aims are to improve a company’s ability to derive insights into customer needs and behaviors by connecting their transaction data with the lifestyle data they share online.

Note that the term “transaction” here meaning more than purchases. It encompasses all interactions with the company. An email is a transaction. An order is a transaction. A customer service call is a transaction.

Depending on how well you understand the world of CRM, here is a variation of the definition:

[Social] CRM is a business function supported by a system and technologies whose aims are to improve a company’s ability to derive insights into customer needs and behaviors by adding to their transaction data the lifestyle data they share online.

Are these last two ideal definitions of SCRM? I don’t know. You tell me. All I can hope is that these two versions of the definition – still works in progress – move the ball forward a little bit, at least for now.

My other hope is that by 2013, the term SCRM becomes obsolete, and CRM has simply evolved into the richer ecosystem of data, insights and consumer interactions provided by the social web. In my mind, the sooner we stop qualifying everything in terms of “social” or not social (as if the two were still somehow separate from one another), the better things will work. For now though, the painful transition continues. Viva la revolución!

A huge thanks to Esteban Kolsky for getting things started, and for letting me rudely snatch the baton from his hand (you’re a good sport, Esteban) and to Neville Hobson and Chuck Hemann for getting the conversation started earlier this week on the Twitternets. Their wonderful blogs, respectively, are here, here, and here.

Additional reading – This short and brilliant bit from Eric Swain: http://www.social-collective.com/2010/08/10/guest-post-social-media-is-dead-long-live-social-crm/

The comment section is now yours.

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 If you haven’t already, pick up your copy of Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization (Que/Pearson) at quality bookstores worldwide, or download the e-version to your favorite device. Don’t let the title fool you, it is a lot more about building social media programs for companies than it is about measuring ROI. Check out the reviews on Amazon.com.

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