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Social Servicing – A First Step to Social CRM

I’ve been hearing and reading a lot lately about Social CRM, or as some call it, SCRM, but never thought I’d have anything to say about this topic because I didn’t really think when I joined Visible Technologies five years ago that I would have anything to do with SCRM. Man, I was wrong.

Although I’m certainly not an expert in SCRM, I’ve been working over the past few months with several companies that I would say are building the foundation for what their companies’ SCRM may look like in the future. These Fortune 500 brands are not fully focused just yet on SCRM, or even totally understand the implications of social media on their traditional CRM systems. Most probably wouldn’t even recognize some of the new proposed definitions of SCRM that have been shared across the Web.

However, what they are doing is what I classify as “Social Servicing” – an important first step in understanding and addressing the needs of customers online and figuring out how to measure those efforts before investing in expensive new people and technologies and scaling on a global basis. None of these companies are talking that much about SCRM today, but I believe each of them are conducting important work in this area. I can’t disclose who I work with in this emerging field, but I can share some of what I have learned and where I think they are headed.

If you’re reading this, you likely know companies such as AT&T, Wells Fargo, FedEx, and others that have established presences on popular social sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, Flyertalk and other sites, to offer support to consumers – either directly (when people ask a brand a direct question), or indirectly (when a brand identifies a specific need and pro-actively reaches out to a consumer).

I sure don’t confuse this natural extension of customer servicing to social communities as SCRM, but I think the lessons being learned by brands in this arena are starting to shape their thinking about where SCRM could be five years out. Keep in mind, most companies are not even executing Social Servicing on the grand scale of the trend-setting Comcasts and Dells of the world yet. Even though the size and scope of their current Social Servicing initiatives may be small in comparison to their companion phone and email servicing operations, the work is nonetheless groundbreaking. The programs and metrics are different than the traditional operations and the learnings are unique.

One of the smart decisions these companies made upfront was re-training existing employees within their organizations to lead their Social Servicing initiatives. No hiring of some special online ambassador or outside community manager. They already have smart people used to dealing with consumers in other channels. Putting a group of people online to answer consumer questions and service product issues isn’t exactly rocket science. The hard part is:

• Making Social Servicing work within the confines of existing operations
• Mapping out a team workflow plan across all agents, teams and international markets
• Establishing a uniform criteria for issue resolution and escalation
• Managing the delicate balance between online marketing and online servicing
• Identifying and collecting all relevant data for internal analysis and action
• Creating a unified methodology for measuring the program’s successes and failures
• Comparing results to the traditional part of the business

This entire area is what I call “Branded Conversation Analysis” and its impact on a company’s brand health hasn’t even taken hold yet, but I believe it will in the near future. Some of the key takeaways these companies have uncovered from their initial efforts include:

• Understanding the importance of defining “serviceable” vs. “non-serviceable” posts and issues before launch
• Standardizing operating procedures across all teams despite differences from market to market
• Adopting a uniform sentiment criteria that paves the way to generate meaningful local and global metrics and insights for executive management
• Categorizing posts by issue, product and business unit and then comparing the social data to other servicing channels
• Accessing the percentage of issues addressed publicly online vs. private or direct messaging
• Understanding the relationship between serviceable issues and types of sites – microblogs, blogs, forums, and photo and video-sharing
• Analyzing the outcome of Social Servicing efforts to understand the similarities and differences in consumer behavior from the traditional side of the business
• Measuring the time it takes individual servicing agents to resolve issues in comparison to email and phone operations

All data and findings are being fed back into other parts of the organization that play a role in CRM to create new levels of thinking and ideas that are sure to have an impact on the next generation of these programs, and eventually the development of their SCRM systems.

One of the things I like the most about what I’ve seen so far is the emphasis on understanding the market landscape and internal focus on strategy and process over technology. These are smart companies and I’ve been fortunate to learn a lot from them as this field continues to emerge.

As I said upfront, I’m no expert on SCRM but I can spot a trend when I see one. I’ve been very impressed with some of the people I respect and follow on SCRM, and if this is an area of interest you should definitely check out the Guide to Understanding Social CRM by the Chess Media Group, anything written by analyst Esteban Kolsky or consultant Mitch Lieberman, Lithium Technologies’ Michael Wu, PH. D, A Scientist’s View of Social CRM, and consider joining the Yahoo Group on Social CRM Pioneers headed by Jeremiah Owyang.

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