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Social Sandbox

This week is the sand castle building contest at our town beach, an activity that brings in tourists to gawk at the crazy things that sand castle builders can make with tiny granules of quartz and calcium. It is a very interesting and enjoyable experience, even though we don’t get the professionals. They won’t come to our competition because the town does not allow sticky sand – the stuff that is used to build the uber-cool sculptures. We have too much riding on our clam beds, which provide some of the best bivalves on the planet.

One of the other big differences of our competition is that everything has a 12 hour life span. This is because the sculptures are all at risk from high-tide waves – most of them get washed away with the next tide. These amazing works of art have a very fleeting life – after all they are built on sand, which conventional wisdom dictates is a terrible place to build.

And, we have come to learn this within the world of CRM as well.

We started up working with a new company recently that has struggled with being successful using social channels for their customer contact center. They were utilizing newly acquired tools to uncover dissatisfied customers asking for peer help on major social sites. Once engaged, the customer interaction would eventually move into more standard channels such as phone and e-mail; yet they were struggling with getting their customer satisfaction scores to improve.

With a bit of investigation we learned that the social part of their CRM process was really working well. The problem was with the conventional portion of the process. They had a very poor case management mechanism and their CRM platform was automating a poor process, which then made it even worse. Cases would age without proper attention, closure was inconsistent, and their escalation policies led to more frustration than satisfaction. Once we got those addressed their voice-of-the-customer feedback improved immediately.

Ironically, they expected that the use of the social channels would improve satisfaction by offering further engagement options, but they did not bother to clean up the foundation of the servicing process, which is based on a strong case management capability. This was our first encounter with this kind of situation, but I have a suspicion we are going to see more. I suspect that it is very enticing to think of the emerging and sexy social CRM opportunities as a way of fixing customer satisfaction issues. However, adding a channel into Facebook is not going to improve things if it is done on top of a poor conventional servicing process. You don’t want to build your Social CRM strategy on sand – it needs to be done on a solid foundation.

If you are in the middle of working out a Social CRM plan, I encourage you to continue, but I also encourage that you use this as an opportunity to audit your CRM program and best practices. The benefit of adding the social channel is huge, and probably the table stakes in today’s B2B environment. So, I don’t propose delaying that. However, in parallel you may need to improve some things to gain the benefits that Social CRM promises.

Otherwise, your efforts might get wiped out with the next tide.

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