Tying Together Social Service and CRM

As social networking technologies continue to seemingly permeate every aspect of most consumers' lives, organizations are looking for ways to also join the movement. CRM magazine's June issue dives into what companies are doing about social CRM, and one of the main issues that arose involved measuring the return on investment (ROI) of utilizing social technologies for business purposes.

Looking to solve the equation for the customer service side of the house, Mountain View, Calif.–based community provider Helpstream unveiled its latest offering, Spring Release 2009, as well as a best practices community named HelpExchange, which looks to promote customer service excellence.

"So many analysts and members of the press I've talked to have said they are struggling to figure out the ROI of social software," explains Tony Nemelka, chief executive officer of Helpstream. "That's because social software by nature is not transactional; it is relationship-based. That's good, but there is less data that shows the benefits."

Nemelka argues his company has been able to do what other community forum providers have not -- take the transactional aspects of CRM, including case management and reporting, and embed it with the relationship-based aspects of social software. "So, we're able to capture data which shows the benefit of deploying this technology for customer service," Nemelka says. "It makes the decision cycle shorter and easier [for prospects]."

Speaking specifically about the new functionality available in Spring Release 2009, Nemelka says there are three pieces, "all of which are sexy in one way, shape, or form." The three are:

  • ActivityStream, enabling users to subscribe to other users and follow their stream of activity, like a Facebook news feed or Twitter account;
  • enterprise application mashup, embedding customer service functionality into existing CRM solutions and, for now, natively integrates with Salesforce.com and Oracle CRM On Demand (Nemelka assures that native integration with other vendors is coming in future releases); and
  • Helpstream Data Synch, synchronizing data between the vendor's offering and any existing business system in order to provide a seamless workflow as well as track all customer service activity in the community using existing CRM reports.

"We are extremely focused on customer service because we believe that's how you add value and it is the on-ramp for building great communities," Nemelka says.

It is this thought which also led to HelpExchange, a customer service best practices community meant to not only share top tips -- there are already more than 40 articles on the site -- but also to facilitate conversation. "HelpExchange is a social services best practice community as opposed to a social technology or software one because we're focused on getting the job of customer service done and done well," Nemelka says. "Some other software vendors today are very broad in terms of applicability of social software, but that usually means it is not so deep. By focusing specifically on the customer service task, we're able to build something much more deep and effective, and therefore conducive to this HelpExchange community."

John Ragsdale, vice president of technology research for the Service and Support Professionals Association, explains the fact that Helpstream can actually provide ROI statistics dealing specifically with the benefits to customer service alone is a huge differentiator. "Since Helpstream has all the phases -- knowledge base, community, contact center desktop -- it can do a much better job of showing where traffic moves among channels," he says. "It's the only provider of community software that could give me real data to show ROI. Helpstream is a little bit ahead of the game."

Helpstream's ActivityStream functionality is extremely important, says Ragsdale. "I love the wisdom of that feature," he adds. "Showing internal information and external links ... it's so important for companies to understand how much great content is out there beyond their firewalls. It's a good first step to get companies realizing they might as well be pulling searches into knowledge base search as well."

The integration capabilities, both natively with Oracle and Salesforce.com and via Helpstream Data Synch technology, effectively cut out the middleman in customer service. "The integration is really good in that you have a single sign on, you can close a ticket in one system with content from the other," Ragsdale says. "It's great to see a Siebel case closed to a Helpstream forum discussion. Most vendors have to move forum discussions into the knowledge base article and link it to a support incident."

Ragsdale stresses that this integration work with multiple software providers that will help deepen and expand Helpstream's competitive footprint. "Most forum providers are picking one single vendor to integrate with," he explains, giving the examples of Lithium and RightNow Technologies as well as Jive and Kana Software. "We haven't seen more of a collaborative approach before, so I do think that pulling it more into day-to-day processes is what support centers want."

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. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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