Social CRM Changes More Than Your Data

Do you have an elliptical machine in your home that functions as an expensive clothes rack? When you bought it, you were probably excited and optimistic about its promise—a new slim and fit body. But once you brought it home, you had to rearrange furniture to make room for it. Then, a bigger challenge: changing your schedule and habits to make exercise a priority. To get lasting value from your purchase, these lifestyle changes had to become permanent.

When you purchase social CRM software, you expect the benefits promised by the sales literature. However, unless your company makes the cultural and operational shifts to become a truly social organization, you'll have lots of new data but won't see a lasting return on your investment.

Your company is now part of a new social ecosystem, populated by your customers, members, prospects, and revenue partners. This new reality is characterized by sharing, engagement, authenticity, transparency, nimbleness, and innovation.

The expectations of clients and consumers are changing as social media and mobile applications become a bigger part of their lives. Pushing out marketing and sales messages is no longer enough to build awareness, leads, and sales. Communication flows both ways now. Customers expect organizations to listen, respond, and act upon what they learn.

The benefits of social CRM far outweigh the challenges of dealing with this new social reality. Social CRM provides a new type of actionable data—social intelligence—about customers, members, fans, partners, and prospects. Fans can be identified and rewarded and their influence leveraged. At-risk and former customers can be tracked, nurtured, and enticed back into the fold. Social CRM provides data to help you understand market trends and customer needs, resulting in more effective marketing messaging.

With social media boosted by social CRM, companies engage and develop relationships with customers. You're more accessible, no longer a brand behind a logo, but part of their online community. However, your customers aren't interested in a new relationship with you unless it results in something positive for them—more responsive customer service, problem resolution, and better products.

Social CRM provides powerful data, but you must have a strategy to use it effectively. Like social media, social CRM shifts how staff does business with customers. This shift in strategy requires new skills and work habits.

Social CRM works best in a collaborative organization where data about customers is shared, not kept in departmental silos. The VIPs and influencers will be known to all. Customer service will know when one of your online influencers is tweeting for help.

Have you dedicated resources to training staff for this new reality and creating guidelines to assist them in their work? This shift may be unsettling to some. They're used to the old ways that always worked for them. They worry about a heavier workload.

How do you ensure that your company will adapt to this shift in doing business? Harvard Business School professor and change expert John Kotter suggests eight steps to implement a cultural change.

1. Create a sense of urgency. Dispel doubts with discussion and education about the changing marketplace and the competitive need to do business in new ways to survive and thrive. The road ahead will be rocky until you get that staff buy-in.

2. Develop a guiding coalition. Gather a cross-departmental and cross-level team of communicators and influencers—people who are respected by their peers—to be your change coalition. They'll help convince and educate others on the need for change.

3. Create a vision for change. Paint a picture that shows why social CRM is critical. Create a vision statement (a few sentences) that describes your future organization. Create a strategy to implement and embed social CRM into your company's culture and operations to achieve that vision.

4. Communicate the vision. Talk about this vision all the time, not just in official memos. Make it part of everything you do. Open your door to questions and concerns from staff. Ensure that all organizational processes support this vision. Model the behavior you want to see—lead by example.

5. Remove obstacles. Identify the organizational barriers (both real and perceived) that prevent staff from accepting change. These barriers may originate in existing systems and procedures or in cultural attitudes. Address concerns about workload. Time is a limited personal resource, one that every employee guards from encroachment, particularly from sources outside their control. Make sure your support systems—administration, accounting, IT, and human resources—make the changes necessary to support social CRM.

6. Generate short-term wins. Although social CRM is a long-term effort, establish a few short-term measurable goals. Stifle the doubters by sharing early success stories that show the investment of time (and reputation) is worth it. Recognize and reward your change coalition and early adopters, especially if their workload or stress increases in the short term.

7. Keep fine-tuning. Seek ways to improve. Learn from setbacks. Bring new people and fresh ideas into the change coalition. Continual education and communication will ease lingering discomfort. Relapse to old ways will be tempting for staff who outwardly celebrate your achievements but inwardly feel threatened by new relationships and programs they don't fully understand. Share best practices so the adjustment is eased for all.

8. Make it stick. To make any change stick, it must become part of your organization's culture. Be patient; a cultural change takes time.

Change is the new normal. Social is the new reality. Adding social to customer relationship management is just the latest evolution. If you build the culture and processes to respond and incorporate this new reality, your investment in social CRM will result in stronger relationships with your customers and a healthier bottom line.

Patrick Dorsey is vice president of marketing at Avectra, a developer of Web-based association management software (AMS) and social community software.

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