Even as social media and collaboration capabilities have become widely available in our private lives through tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, Box.net, Twitter, Digg and so on, corporations have been somewhat slower to make these capabilities available to their employees. It would even be fair to say that while social media and collaboration capabilities are almost fully emerged for the average U.S. citizen, for the average U.S. corporate citizen these capabilities are still in the early stages of emergence.

But social media and collaboration tools for the enterprise are not emerging across all corporate functions at the same rate. One of the most rapidly emerging areas is social customer relationship management, or social CRM.

What is social CRM?

We’ve likely all witnessed the following on Facebook or Twitter: a disgruntled customer of a bank, for example, vents their frustration about poor customer service or bank error in their status update, something like, “#AcmeBank stuck me w 2 $35 ovrdrft chrgs 4 same chk – aghhhh!!! | #worstbankever #fail #fact”.

But what you may not realize is the sheer volume of customer feedback generated through social channels: simply search for the name of any big corporation on Twitter and you’ll quickly see the magnitude of this avenue of customer communication.

What you’ll probably also notice is that the communication is overwhelmingly one-way, from customer to business, with very little outbound communication from the affected businesses that directly addresses the growing volume of customer feedback (primarily negative) rushing at them through social channels. This is where social CRM can help.

Social CRM is the capability for an enterprise to manage the social media and collaboration driven aspects of the customer relationship. It includes a wide range of activities that will depend for the most part on the social media and collaboration footprint of the organization. But in general, the following are typical areas of concern for social CRM:

  • Networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, etc. -- comments/postings by customers or about the organization (or both) on corporate sites as well as on sites not owned by the organization
  • Twitter -- tweets mentioning the organization
  • Corporate blogs and discussion forums -- comments on blog posts and discussion forums
  • Non-corporate blogs and discussion forums -- postings and comments that mention the organization on blogs and discussion forums not owned by the organization

Social CRM, then, enables an organization to monitor these channels for communication relevant to the operation of its business (e.g., complaints, praise, suggestions, IP leaks) and take action accordingly (e.g., address the complaint, give thanks for the praise, pass suggestions into product development process, prosecute IP leaks).

Social CRM and the Customer Service Lifecycle

Now that we have a better idea of what social CRM is all about in general, let’s take a look at a tangible example of how an organization might inject social CRM capabilities into their business processes: the customer service lifecycle.

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Figure 1 is an overview of how social CRM can extend established customer service processes into the social media space to provide enhanced customer service (in this example, it’s a retail bank, but the process would be the same for any industry). Let’s walk through the example  in a bit more detail to see exactly how it might work.

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Figure 2: Inbound Twitter Complaint

Figure 2 shows the first step in the social CRM enabled customer service process: a customer posts a negative comment about ACME Bank (in this case, to Twitter).

What typically happens is that this tweet would simply languish, unaddressed, for everyone to see…and provide yet another example of how ACME Bank doesn't care about its customers. Social CRM, however, allows ACME Bank to turn this into an opportunity for positive (and very public) customer interaction.

One reason negative customer feedback sits out there unaddressed is that most companies don’t have a systematic way to pull this feedback into their customer service processes. Think back to a time before email was an established customer service channel: complaint emails would come in to whatever mailbox a customer could find, and it was anybody’s guess whether it would make its way to the appropriate customer service department. The situation is the same today with negative Facebook posts, tweets, blog comments and forum contributions.

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Figure 3: Social CRM Customer Service Workflow

As Figure 3 shows (using a technology-neutral wireframe), in order to systematically address social feedback, companies need to invest in an application that does the following things:

  1. Monitors internet activity for relevant postings
  2. Ingests relevant postings into a work queue that kicks off the customer service process
  3. Allows employees to collaborate on the issue
  4. Integrates with LOB systems to provide a 360 degree view of customers (so that the CSRs can validate whether this posting is in fact made by a customer and who exactly that customer is)
  5. Enables public and private responses to the customer to resolve the issue

By doing so, organizations can gain a scalable, repeatable, automated process to tackle the growing volumes of customer service issues surfaced through social channels.

And the payoff goes beyond satisfying a single customer (as is the case with traditional customer service), because the resolution occurs in a public forum for all the world to see. Each customer service issue that arises in the social space, therefore, is a marketing and PR opportunity to show everyone who’s watching just how much your organization values its customers -- or doesn’t.

The final word

As this example from customer service showed, there are good reasons to enable social CRM in an organization, and the effects on operations can be tangible and measurable. Unlike “getting Facebook for the enterprise” (or some other similarly vague corporate social media goal), enabling social CRM can be a business-relevant, ROI-driven endeavor, one that organizations will be unable to ignore for much longer without serious negative impact to their customer satisfaction.

Editor's Note: Other articles on Social CRM you might be interested in: