Text below was a guest post for Tom Laine’s excellent blog, SocialMediocracy. Please visit his blog which is full interesting stuff related Social Media and business related to it.
When Tom enquired if I’d like to come up with guest post for his well entertaining blog, I think we discussed about Business Intelligence and how put social vibe to it. Well, I was slow and Tom came up with his own text. Worth of reading even though it is not written by me.
Next topic was CRM, again with the social spices, the topic I’ve been touching at the times (only in Finnish though). I started to write on that but got bored, cut all of the written text and decided to write a little story about the perfect world.
Before the perfection, may I introduce myself? My name is Jani Lilja, 34 years old part-time entrepreneur with my social everything related company, Cliente (web pages only in Finnish, sorry). Working background consists of Business Intelligence, Service Management, CRM and software development in every role you could imagine.
The little tale of being social
In the beginning there was this local clothing store for a local people where the owner knew her customers, their families and their likings. For example Mrs. Robinson’s children loved all things shiny so the storekeeper sometimes slipped couple of free glittering hairpins to the shopping bag and Mrs. Robinson was happy as the kids were happy.
Shopkeeper always had time for her customers, seemed to remember everything and knew how to serve them. She had this little thing called CRM system, also known as paper notebook, where she stored all kinds of information and along with her calendar she remembered always to congratulate the customers on their birthdays.
Time went by and the village grew and became a town. Number of customers grew, store grew, services expanded and number of employees grew but the shopkeeper insisted on having close relationship with her customers and this was also required from the employees. After they build couple of new stores and started to sell stuff online, owner knew they had to think of new ways to keep in touch with the customers.
As they had the online store, they had quite much customer data stored somewhere in the databases. They also had all kinds of information in their old paper book CRM system and had quite a lot feedback from the customers via email and on paper notes from the shops. Valuable information around places but no centralized way to examine and use it.
To get this information in to use, they decided to get proper CRM application and integrated it to their online store and invoicing systems. Later on they also had information from their customer loyalty program and started to have a good view on the value and behavioral patterns of the customer by implementing reporting functions to the system. But even though they knew the value of the customer, they didn’t know what the customer expected from them, what they were talking about them.
And so the social media came to the picture. Owner was curious but didn’t want to rush in to anything so they decided to find out whether people were talking about them or their products. Agency was hired and after a month the agency came back with the some suggestions how to proceed. They already knew who their customers were and now they also know where customers were doing their talking so they started to follow those forums and eventually also to discuss. Discussions were held about their products, their services, potential products and services, customers’ opinions about the world, basically all kind of thing you can discuss or crowdsource. After getting positive results they expanded their repertoire and communicated with the customers using popular tools like Twitter and Facebook. During the process they also happened to discuss with Mrs. Robinson’s daughter who still remembered those hairpins.
Discussions happened outside of their systems so they decided to socialize their CRM systems. As the result they managed to do most of the customer communication using their CRM system which was on integrated to the social channels. Tricky part was to get every employee to understand the importance of being social but as part of the decision to coach their employees to understand the new era of communication they decided implement kind of Facebook like intranet which brought working with the new social ways closer to all employees.
Not only they gain kind of full view on their customers but managed also to bring internal communication to the new level and the employees got their voices heard. Employees got the channel where they could internally discuss their products, what kind of customers they’ve been in touch with and what they could do to improve their offerings.
On technical level this is all achievable. You can access your customer information anywhere, analyze it to the bits and communicate with your customers, vendors and employees when ever needed and where ever needed. Outside the machines lies the problem, warns Yoda.
You can do the same but hear me first
They needed to move forward with the world and growing customer masses so they started doing CRM, they used discussion forums and other social channels, added Social CRM to their CRM process, expanded it with Business Intelligence and even managed to socialize their internal way of working. It’s like doing Social Business, eh?
In ideal world everything and everyone goes social like in the previous story but in real life this might be little bit more complicated as you have people who are used to have a phone call when contacting other people and socializing with the friends means having a dinner or night out somewhere nice. Email has been The Channel via internet. All of sudden they are forced to tweet, try to determine the meaning of YouTube video and get insulted by total stranger without face.
From the business point of view the biggest challenges are not the technical ones as it has been already shown that everything can be integrated with anything. You can integrate your systems to social channels and get the all information written on the internet but how to get your people involved and understand all of this?
What is there to understand? What has happened is that almost everyone is now connected to each other via machines. One has a laptop, other has a iPad or any other mobile device which is connected to the internet and social networks all the time. Business itself is not changing that much as someone is selling and other one is buying but the communication is, the way we are communicating with each other and with the ecosystem we are living in. Basically you could argue that we’ve been social forever as we’ve been talking with people face to face but now the concept of social is moving to open discussions where one or many can participate in conversations, get opinions and express themselves. This is the reality especially with the younger generations who have iPad for the 1st birthday and cell phone for the second. Nowadays people go to Facebook instead of using it (think about the difference).
How to move forward then? Starting inside is always a good way to start. Get your people involved on internal matters, give them platform to express themselves, urge them to do that, reward them for being open and innovative. Show your own employees that their opinions are heard and respected by those above them, show them than you are responding to negatives with something other than the sound of silence. If you can show internally the power of the customer’s voice, you are one big step closer on moving your company to more open and more social, may I even say more customer-orientated territory?
All this may mean rethinking of some processes, making them more outside-in where the process is designed to serve the customer instead of the people involved inside the company. This might also mean new marketing and pr strategies. Heck, this might mean even more business when customers see that their opinions are valued and they have possibility to create more value by partnering the company.
Whatever is your approach, starting inside the company or outside, move forward by taking baby steps. Do not try take on every social service, choose one or two and concentrate on those, and when the understanding is there, expand if needed. If the existing infrastructure supports integrations to the social layers, why not to implement these to support the process but might be wise to first concentrate on getting used with whole concept before starting huge system projects.
As we have witnessed, everything is social, the present and the future, even the past. Now it’s up to us to surf on the same wave as our customers.