The fastest way to fail at Social CRM (SCRM) is to focus on the technology. That was a fatal approach for good ol’ fashioned CRM, because despite the fact that software allowed the idea to scale to enterprise levels, the idea at its core revolved around people. SCRM introduces the same confusion, but to an even greater level; it demands more sophisticated technology, so again the temptation is to look at the applications needed to sort the data. But, in reality, it’s even more about the human behaviors customers exhibit, not only in the real world, but also in social media.

So, as you wrestle with sentiment monitoring, community management, influence measurement and all the other technologies that underpin a sophisticated and serious SCRM effort, how do you remember to keep your eye on the human aspects of SCRM?

When it comes to the engagement side of the equation -- the interaction of your business with the people talking about it in social media -- I have a mnemonic device for you: AAA. I’m not talking about the people who help you when your car won’t start, or the highest level of minor league baseball, or a grade of eggs. I’m talking about three specific attributes you need to display if you’re going to stay focused on your customers and potential customers in the new social age.

The three A’s stand for authority, authenticity and accountability -- and here’s why they’re important.

1. Authority

This is not about the old school, “I’m the business so I know everything and the customer knows very little” version of authority we used to see. The salesman used to be the provider of information and the customer was the receiver, but we all know that era is long gone. The customer can research a service or a product on-line, or enlist the help of thousands of strangers to do so. Your business needs to understand this and instead, embrace a different kind of authority: the kind that comes from being the ultimate expert on what you do, make or distribute. You can’t simply assert that authority any more, you have to work hard at it. You still have an advantage in building this level of expertise: you have the internal methods of learning you’ve always had and you have the community to add to that knowledge (if you’re smart enough to pay attention to it).

This is about building an authoritative knowledge of your products and your processes. It makes sense that you should know more about your business than anyone, but if you’ve ever encountered a customer service agent befuddled about a process or a salesperson stumped about delivery timelines, you know that’s not always the case. The social customer demands that you understand not just what you’re selling them but every other aspect of the product experience. Paying attention to that and finding ways to add that knowledge to your institutional memory is critical.

Doing this allows you to become a trusted social media citizen. It allows you to build trust and to provide answers to serious questions raised in social media while lessening the risk of exposing your ignorance. That leads to building trust, which should be a critical objective for anyone engaging with customers. And it’s not just about building good feeling or customer confidence -- trust leads to greater consideration by customers when it comes time to buy.

2. Authenticity

Today’s customers are tired of being sold to -- they know what that looks, smells and feels like, and they don’t want any more of it. Have you ever hung up the phone on a telemarketer who refuses to veer from his script no matter what you said to him? That’s exactly what customers are doing to businesses who fail to understand the idea of being a peer rather than a product-pusher and who take those old-style selling approaches to new-style social media.

That’s where the concept of authenticity comes into play. Authenticity describes the quality of your conversation with customers -- do you come across as an extremely knowledgeable peer, or do you come across as a shill who’s only talking to customers because you want what’s in their wallets? Social media offers lots of opportunities to connect: wasting them with transparent pitches, self-serving canned answers and tangential references to things you’re selling is not only a wasted opportunity to build relationships, it’s actually detrimental. Customers are a sophisticated bunch and they can see through less-than-sincere interactions.

This isn’t to say that your conversations should not include a call to action -- but it has to be one that is mutually beneficial. Social media provides a great opportunity for a back-and-forth series of interactions that begin with a conversation and end with a sale, but in between you should have an authentic, helpful set of interactions with the customer or potential customer. To cite a real-world example, no one walks out of a business and remembers the sales pitch they received -- but they do remember the help they were given and the attitude with which that help was offered. Social media works the same way.

3. Accountability

This one may be the toughest. It’s much easier to offer, assert or promise things in social media than it is to deliver them, back them up or follow through on them. But you have to do it, and the urgency for real follow-through is even greater in social media because you’ve done it not just in front of one customer but potentially within virtual earshot of thousands.

Accountability is simply the act of delivering on what you say. This means two things: be sure of what you can deliver before you say something, and if you can’t deliver on something you said, stand up and admit it. Although customers expect fast answers, they also expect accurate and truthful ones. If you can’t provide an answer with complete confidence, slow down; there’s no shame in saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you,” especially if the alternative is an incomplete or inaccurate response.

But the real key to accountability is having the processes in place in the rest of your business beyond SCRM and CRM to deliver for your customers. Your social media team can’t do it all themselves; at some point, the communications they receive will need to be acted upon by someone else in the organization in a more real-world way. Especially in businesses that are using social media to help with customer service, it’s vital to have the processes in place to exchange data between social media gatekeepers and others in the business, and it’s vital that when that exchange happens there are processes in place to deal with them. Failing service processes or faulty products mean that your social media team can never truly be accountable unless all they offer are apologies.

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