What’s driving Social CRM – opportunity or fear?


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Most clients that I have discussed Social CRM with so far have fallen into one of two camps: those motivated by the opportunity presented by Social CRM and those motivated by their fear of the social customer. Let me say from the outset that I recognise that this is quite a crude split, that there are grey areas in between, and that over time it’s certainly possible for a client to move from one camp towards another; but for the moment let me explain my thinking.

First, a reminder that Social CRM is “the company’s response to the customer’s control of the conversation” (Paul Greenberg “Time to put a stake in the ground on Social CRM”). Those driven by the opportunity of Social CRM see customer control of the conversation as a positive thing as it provides knowledge, insight and engagement that they might otherwise have missed.  If we take a Consumer Goods company as an example, most have long been separated (and as a result frustrated) from their end consumers by retailers. For Consumer Goods companies Social CRM represents a unique opportunity to engage, listen, capture and respond to the direct and authentic voice of the consumer. Consumer Products companies can leverage Social CRM to build deeper relationships with the end users of their products, create new products (or re-design old ones) based on direct community feedback, adjust promotions or test new markets based on real consumer insight.

Those motivated by fear of the customer’s new found control of the conversation, on the other hand, think quite differently. These are organisations whose relationship with their customers is typically defined by negative moments of truth. Take a water utility, for example. Now I have no desire to have any sort of interaction with my water utility other than when I sign up, when I leave, or if something goes wrong in between. My relationship with my water utility is defined purely by how easy it is for me to set up or close my account, the cost of my bill, how many things go wrong and how well they are dealt with. If things do go wrong (for example, if my bill is incorrect, my water pressure is low, or if sewage is pumped into my street) them my relationship with my water company is determined by how well they deal with that negative moment of truth. If my water utility can’t fix the problem in a manner I deem to be appropriate, through the channel of my choice, then the chances are that I will eventually turn to social channels to vent my frustration. I will tweet, I will blog, I will write negative reviews etc. If my negative sentiment resonates with others, then it will gain viral momentum, causing embarrassment and potentially lost customers. If you think about many of the headline-grabbing Social failures like United breaks guitars, Eurostar’s Twitter storm, or BT’s YouTube complaint; many have been driven by an inability to spot and deal with a negative moment of truth. Hence for some organisations, their primary driver for Social CRM (at least in the first instance) is simply to be able to better listen and respond to angry customers; putting out sparks and flames before they become fires.

Currently most commentary on Social CRM is directed towards the opportunity camp. I don’t dispute that, or the logic that goes with it – the opportunity camp is where the excitement happens; where organisations can become truly customer-centric / customer-driven. But the opportunity camp is not necessarily an easy starting point for all organisations; improving customer service to quench flames of discontent is far more tangible for some. Over time I suspect companies starting in either camp will evolve their thinking and usage of Social CRM. Those who start by trying to listen and respond out of fear for the social customer may find an opportunity to better understand their customers (their desired outcomes and their value creation processes). This insight in turn may lead them to spot new opportunities for product or service enhancement.

What’s your view?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Laurence Buchanan
Laurence is CEO of EY Seren and leads EY’s global Customer & Growth practice. He works with clients to help them re-imagine growth through human-centered design, innovation and the transformation of Marketing, Sales & Customer Service functions. He is a recognized authority on digital transformation, customer experience and CRM, he has worked across a wide range of sectors, including telco, media, life sciences, retail and sports. He received an MA in Modern History from the University of Oxford.


  1. You’re right, what sparks peoples’ fear about Social CRM is actually an opportunity. An opportunity to say, ‘hey, we’re not perfect, but guess what? We’re listening and we want correct your problem and make it right.’ Last week my Kindle slipped out of my hand and the screen cracked. I Googled “cracked screen Kindle” and found nothing but horror stories. Apparently Amazon wasn’t doing a great job at dealing with this issue, so people were making a lot of noise about it. I called up Amazon, wondering how I could have it repaired and what the costs would be. The woman on the other end of the phone surprised me and responded by saying that they were sorry this had happened and that they were going to replace it for free – even though it was my fault for having dropped it. I can’t help but wonder… Is their new policy a direct result of peoples’ complaints on the socialshpere? They’ve righted in my book. I tell people about it every chance I get. Well look, here I am doing that right now!


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