Two years ago it was all about experimentation and discovery. Companies were thinking about blogs and looking at forums, dipping a toe where it seemed appropriate. One year later, the buzz was about monitoring and finding out what customers were saying before an incident like "Motrin Mom" could take shape and permeate the social Web. Now, in 2010, companies are bringing tools in-house, not only to analyze relevant conversations and social feedback, but to begin acting upon the insights.
Recognizing that companies are all at different stages in progression, Joseph Hughes, a senior executive in Accenture's CRM practices, says he is now hearing from clients, "This is the year we want to do something with the information; we want take it to the next level and industrialize it in what we do."
Making social information actionable seems to be resonating with clients, Hughes says. But it's all very complex and companies are now beginning to ask questions such as, "I've got complaints on Twitter, on forums, and I've got 10,000 call center agents, and 10 people on Twitter, is now the time to make decisions on how do I bring more Twitter into the call center or bring call center folks onto the Twitter handle?"
Accenture's CRM practice recently released a report entitled, "Social CRM: The New Frontier of Marketing, Sales and Service" that delves into such complicated topics as scaling social media to the contact center, and using social to bridge gaps between marketing and sales, and even between service and marketing.
The report states, "Social CRM presents many opportunities to build a distinctive capability that can serve as a building block of high performance: a method to potentially connect more tightly with customers at lower cost and in a way that provides a real differentiation from competitors." However, it's not something that can or will happen overnight. Accenture's Hughes recommends developing a strategy for getting social. In doing so, companies might encounter a few blips along the road -- blips that even social media thought-leaders are grappling with.
Accenture provides a holistic approach to developing a social CRM strategy. Meanwhile, Hughes pinpoints several areas that are perhaps not being talked about as much as they should be:
1. The need for social algorithms.
It seems like yesterday that CRM departments figured out metrics for email, phone, and even online chat. Now that companies are expected to incorporate social media channels into sales and service, what are the standards for responding to a tweet or a Facebook post? "On the social media channels, we have an advantage of customers answering questions for us," Hughes points out.
However, Accenture is working to develop an algorithm for moving forward with social. "We want to come up with an algorithm for responding to customers in some sort of time frame, such as if no [customers] respond [to another customer's question] then we step in and respond in this amount of time," Hughes explains. "We don't want to lose the advantage of customers helping themselves, but we do have to take steps to make sure messages aren't getting lost in the channel."
In some cases, Hughes says, it doesn't make sense to respond to every customer tweet, comment, or post, but there needs to be metrics to determine response priorities. Key influencers can prompt a need for fast responses, for instance. "Sometimes you may want to wait to respond, other times, there's a point when you need to step in," Hughes says. "Sometimes it's a thank you. You'd be surprised how many compliments go unacknowledged."
2. Merging, understanding, and accessing structured and unstructured data.
"The solution to structured data isn't widely talked about," Hughes says, adding that often times it gets filed under "data warehousing problems." Soon enough, Hughes says, contact centers might wonder whether to put HootSuite (for Twitter purposes) on contact center desktops rather than Siebel, for example. Making those decisions may prove difficult, but integrating unstructured data within traditional data sets is even more complex.
Accenture reports that 43 percent of consumers think companies should use social media to solve their problems. This being so, the Accenture report depicts a "virtuous loop" knowledge management life-cycle" that includes social media feedback and support conversations into the customer service strategy. "We have to come to new strategy or new standards to come across tools, or companies will come across Web FAQs, and km internally in one tool," Hughes says.
Some vendors are further along than others in integrating social, unstructured data into knowledge management, and allowing service agents to work with such data as they would with traditional call records or emails. Hughes names RightNow as a vendor that's ahead of the pack, but notes that many companies seem to be using two different knowledge management elements -- one internal, traditional solution and one social external one -- in their strategies. "
Companies don't do a religiously good job of getting information out and getting it to the KM agent," Hughes says, "But they are getting there."
3. Organizational consulting.
In years past, Hughes notes, control over an organization's social media efforts largely rested in the hands of marketers. Marketers, in turn, seem to have the best-developed sense of how to involve social media in the development of their messages.
Even in marketing, however, the situation is rapidly changing. "Staying in control of your brand is different than it used to be," Hughes says, in large part because any true social media strategy must be developed -- and executed -- enterprisewide. Most companies, he says, have yet to progress to that level of maturity -- and the organizations that believe they have reached that level often have failures to show for their efforts. There's no stopping the spread of social media across the enterprise, though: Today's social media projects are inexorably moving into support, sales, and product development.
Not surprisingly, Accenture's report emphasizes those enterprises that are looking to systems integrators (SIs) for assistance. (Accenture, of course, is one of those SIs.) This is the year, Hughes says, that the industry will see consulting and tools brought forth from two directions:
- large vendors offering add-on products and services, and
- independent companies that are able to sit in the middle, regardless of technology.
It's a new phenomenon, Hughes says, but one that will only gather speed in the coming months.
News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine.
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