To SCRM or not to SCRM – that is the question?


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A few days ago, I posted my views on Mitch Lieberman’s post ( ) on SCRM and traditional CRM. Today, I read an excellent piece by Paul Greenberg ( ) about what else – the same topic and so wanted to reiterate and expand on some of the things I said there.

(On one hand I am bemoaning the day when we coined the term SCRM – instead of just leaving it as CRM. Do we have ‘traditional customer experience’ and ‘social customer experience’ broken out? Of course not. Anyway, since we well into the world of Social CRM, I am trying to visualize it as best as I can on the basis of my experience).

First off, I would like to make a clear distinction about one aspect. Paul mentions in his article, “Social media doesn’t have to be included in programs for customer engagement”. I completely agree with this statement. But by extension, I would also say that all firms also don’t need ‘SCRM’ to succeed. What I am trying to get at is that there are multiple questions buried here and they need to be addressed separately.
a) Is social media an absolutely necessary component of customer engagement?
b) Is social media an absolutely necessary component of SCRM?
c) Is SCRM an absolute necessity for a firm to succeed?

As I said earlier, Paul did a great job with his post and I agree with him pretty much on the points he made. The one area of contention is the answer to the question “Can You “Do” Social CRM without Social Media/Networks?” – Paul’s response, “Emphatically yes” — and on this one, I respectfully disagree.

As I have said earlier, my POV is that I don’t think we can do Social CRM without Social Media or without Social Networks. Don’t get me wrong – I am NOT saying that Social Media defines SCRM. What defines SCRM is the engagement with the social customer and the social mental-model that goes along with it (handling social customers require a shift from the traditional mental models of treating customers) in building a better customer experience. In other words, to do SCRM (and this is just my humble opinion) the firm has to make investments in social computing technologies and plan on if/where/when/how to start wading through and participating in the various customer community platforms. And equally importantly, to be successful in SCRM the firm need to have thought through how to integrate these new components into their traditional CRM processes and existing infrastructure.

Now I will admit my experience with SCRM might be less than what some of you have. However, I have worked on traditional CRM for over a decade — from creating roadmaps to actual execution. And I completely and vehemently agree with Paul that SCRM is but an extension of traditional CRM . As I have mentioned before (and so have a few others), I am of the opinion that all the processes, principles, tools, infrastructure, and skill sets of traditional CRM can still be leveraged for SCRM — only now it needs to be augmented with certain emerging technologies and a certain mental-model shift to handle social customers. Executing on traditional CRM, I dealt with organizational enablement, value segmentation, collaboration, touch-point alignment, customer data management, sales force automation etc. — and I think every one of them is still absolutely valid in the case of Social CRM. I worked on methodologies and processes for acquiring, activating, retaining, converting, and collaborating with customers in the traditional CRM world — and all of those are equally valid in SCRM. What has changed are the weights associated with the various factors. In the SCRM world, firms have to put more thinking into addressing end-user mobility, customer data management, customer analytics, and the very important topic of if and how to enable collaboration with the customers on the various platforms (traditional and social) and communities.

Now to the topic of less sophisticated customers. If a customer is ‘not sophisticated’ and doesn’t use social media but his/her use of technology is limited to cell phones, then I would argue that we don’t need SCRM to handle those customers. Traditional CRM can do a great job in providing a rich experience for this group. Here is how I picture the evolutionary pathway.

Traditional CRM –> Traditional CRM + Mental-model shift –> Social CRM

Traditional CRM is for those firms that have customers using the non-web channels predominantly with possibly some web site usage. The customers for these firms are not into social media and the level of sophistication of usage is limited to direct contact with sales, phone calls etc.

Traditional CRM + Mental-model shift is for those firms who have customers that are relatively more tech savvy but not much into social media. In to this category would fall those customers who like to use mobile phones and/or like to get updates on their mobile but hardly ever use the facebooks and twitters of this world. What is required here is for the firm to unlearn some of their previous thinking about engagement and come out with more creative customer engagement models.

And finally, Social CRM to me is for those firms with customers that are actively engaged in all channels including social media. This requires not only a mental model shift but also requires investment in additional social technologies plus the added complexity of integrating the social layer with the existing traditional layer. Of course, if you are a firm just starting out and all your customers are social – the integration part is minimal – as you are lucky to start out with a clean slate.

Bottom line, it is up to the firm to craft what space they want to be and should be in (today and 5 years from now) and how to create the CRM strategy to succeed in that space. To wrap up:

* Social media need not be a necessary component of customer engagement.

* Social media is a necessary component but not the key driver in SCRM. The key driver – which would determine success – is how effectively the firm builds the structure and processes that enhance collaboration with their customers and create synergy between the traditional CRM channels and the social networks to enhance the overall customer experience.

* A firm need not necessarily engage in SCRM to succeed in the market place.

Ned Kumar
NK Consulting
Ned Kumar has over fifteen years of experience in customer analytics and strategy, with expertise in both online and offline channels. He currently serves as a Strategist and as a corporate advisor for search optimization, interactive marketing and multi-channel analytics. His current interests and engagements include collaborative thinking, social networks, social crm, and innovation.


  1. I would only suggest that if CRM had fulfilled its own promise, to establish relationships rather than transactions, we probably wouldn’t be talking about SCRM. I would further assert that traditional systems are really CTM, customer transaction management, systems rather than CRM. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be such a gap between the experience that CEOs think they deliver and the experience that customers sense they receive.

    Just a thought.

  2. Great point, Larry. While CRM theoretically should be a strategy, what I’ve seen in the market the past 10 years is mainly managing customer information, via various automation systems and databases.

    Do we need these things? Of course we do. But managing deals in and SFA system or managing incidents in customer service or targeting marketing campaigns do not a relationship make.

    That’s why we’ve seen such interest in Customer Experience Management and now Social CRM in recent times. Trying to move closer to what CRM was supposed to be from the beginning.

    But I’m afraid that the tech connotation of CRM won’t be overcome by adding an “S” on the front. Indeed, it appears that a popular opinion is growing that SCRM = CRM + social media. Adding new channels is fine and probably necessary in the era of the Social Customer, but using social media/networks doesn’t mean that a company is actually being “social.”

    In the end, what will probably happen is that a company will be viewed as “doing” Social CRM if they are using some set of tools — CRM systems connected to social channels. And then we can start working on CRM 3.0 or something else to try once again to get the focus back on the customer and the relationship.

  3. How does one keep track of the ongoing daily conversing that goes on through social media to gain insight and see what customers are saying without any interruption, capture that conversations and decipher it for ideas that will bring added value to them.

    In Paul Greenberg’s definition of scrm he used the word philosophy and strategy.

    Very interesting words to use to define scrm when crm obviously was neverr meant to be a philosophy and from Bob’s comment never really used for strategy as well.

    How do you solve a math problem without any numbers?

    CRM wants numbers, strict facts, and analysis.

    SCRM wants conversations.

    To SCRM is to use technology to converse with customers.
    To not SCRM is to not use technology to converse with customers.

  4. Larry/Bob,
    One thing I agree with you both is that a lack of fundamental understanding of the concepts and the rush to adopt the “latest cool thing in the market” has resulted in many a misuse of these terms and the ensuing confusion. And the fact that CRM went through a phase of hype, failures & disappointments, and then a more stable state with reasonable expectations added to what it is and what it is not.

    Bob – your comments are right on the mark. CRM for a lot of companies initially was more a technology project than a customer-centric project. Of course, as could be expected, this inward-looking approach resulted in some much publicized CRM failures early on and so out from these “ashes” arose CXM or CEM (Customer Experience Management). The proponents of CXM voiced that CXM is different from CRM because it is more customer focused and therefore better than the tech-focused CRM. And now we have SCRM, which is being promoted as the next “cool thing” to do as it handles today’s social customers.

    Personally – and I have always sold this view to the folks I talk to and work with – I don’t think it makes a darned difference what one calles it – CRM, CTM, CXM, SCRM or something else. The key is to understand what initiatives you need to put in place to:
    (a) meet the needs of your customers
    (b) give them a delightful experience, and
    (c) keep the innovation engine running so that you are still competitive and profitable today & 5 years from now.

    This can include many aspects, and I list some of those here (by no ways complete, but I at least wanted to highlight a few):

    * Customer Data Management – To me this is absolutely critical. If you cannot manage the various inputs from your customers, you lost a big advantage right at the onset because that means you will be less successful in decoding the signals they send you. Part of CDM will involve creating some sort of Customer interaction database or history.

    * Infrastructure & Processes – One can always wish, but to make things a reality we need to put the proper infrastructure and processes in place. For now I will leave it at that.

    * Organizational Changes – This is again critical. In many organizations, the cultural change needed or the mental-model shift as I would like to call it- is huge. You cannot succeed unless you think customer-centric (and here one should not be thinking in terms of balance sheet – that comes later). Also, various other things like new roles, responsibilites etc. might have to be created.

    * Customer Analytics, Measurement, and Tools – While each of this is a topic in itself, I am lumping it together here. I am always surprised at how many folks undervalue proper analytics and the need for proper tools.

    To me it matters less what labels we are using, but at the end of day these components are critical (imho) for success. And lastly, it goes without saying that the most important part in all this is PEOPLE. The folks in the organization got to have the right mind-set, skills, and unconditional faith that this is the right thing to do for the firm and their customers.

    (P.S: To reiterate once more – I agree that CRM + Social Media does not equal SCRM. All I am saying is that social media is a component, but the bigger aspect is how you work with this channel and integrate it with the rest of the firm).


  5. Spiro,

    Paul’s definition was created for CRM 2.0, intended to move to a more conversational/collaborative relationship with customers.

    But then Social CRM became the hot term, and Paul changed CRM 2.0 to Social CRM. And kept the definition the same, emphasizing strategy/philosophy, not just tools.

    That would be ok, except Social CRM has been promoted by vendors in many different ways, but mostly as a social media or Web 2.0 add-on to CRM. Oracle, for example, has a “Social CRM” solution that’s essentially a Web 2.0 upgrade to its SFA solution. Not much customer collaboration going on here. Other vendor sell online community solutions or Twitter integration as Social CRM.

    So there’s a mismatch between Paul’s CRM 2.0/SCRM definition and how SCRM is being actually defined by the market.

    I think for most people, SCRM will mean using social tools/channels/networks in conjunction with CRM systems. There’s plenty of value in that, but it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a “social strategy” driving it.

    Bottom line: it’s a lot easier to upgrade tools than to upgrade strategy.

  6. Spiro, thanks for stopping by and providing your inputs.

    Just to add to Bob’s comment above, one of the big concerns I have is folks adding social media, social tools etc. to their engagement portfolio and calling it SCRM.

    At the risk of sounding repetitive, I will again state that the key to a successful SCRM (imho) is NOT the addition of social media, and it is NOT the use of social computing technologies or social media measurement tools to their portfolio. While those are necessary, success would depend on how good a job the firm did in EMBRACING the ‘social’ change in our behaviors (the mental-model & cultural shift), creating SYNERGY within the corporation between all channels (integration a big part here), and COLLABORATING with their customers to enrich their experience and value gained (by listening, responding, co-creating etc.)


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