How Social CRM Could Push CRM Toward its Real Potential

Little did I know six months ago when the CRM Outsiders placed fourth in the annual top 20 CRM bloggers list I’ve been compiling since 2007 that my scribblings would occupy this space. But here I am. “I” is me, Chris Bucholtz; I was the editor of InsideCRM and Forecasting Clouds, and I’m still a columnist for CRM Buyer.

I love the CRM space, and here’s why: I come at it from the point of view of a customer first, then as a small business owner, then as a journalist, and then, way down the road, as a technology nerd. I earned my stripes reporting on telecommunications, put in my time covering hardware, and even hacked through a stint editing a semiconductor capital equipment magazine. But the story is always about people and how technology serves them – and, if CRM’s being done right, it serves both the business and the customer.

Now, we’re on the edge of a major change in CRM, and it’s going to mirror the change in human behavior that we’re all experiencing. Social media is changing the way people behave and interact, with businesses as well as friends, making social CRM all but inevitable. But getting there is tough – it’s not as easy to manage the disparate data sources customers now use, and it’s not as easy to build lasting relationships through social media.

Although the customer has long had control of the relationship, until the rise of social media the business had control of the points in the relationship where pertinent data could be collected about the customer – the storefront, the cash register, the contact center and so on. Even if the customer wanted to complain, he or she would have to take it to the business in the form of a letter or in-person complaint – another easily controlled business-centric data collection point.

Today, the business no longer has control of all the points where data is being shared. That complaint may now go to Yelp or to an on-line community, and the business may not ever see it (although many others will). The easily-collected data is still there, but the data that provides the broader context – the social media data – has to be hunted down, tools have to be created to allow us to manage it, and analytics need to be applied to make sense of it.

This is not a case where you can buy a product, look up some ideas in a business book, and mechanically follow instructions. This is a case where you have to learn enough about your customers to know how they behave socially and to interact with them in ways that make sense through a collection of different tools. Although you may now be less likely to get face time with them, you may also now be required to know them better and understand them more deeply.

And that’s what I love about Social CRM: it actually forces businesses to focus on the long-forgotten “R” word in the acronym – and that may be why it’s such a tough prospect. Establishing real relationships is harder than managing data – and it’s potentially more rewarding, to both parties in the relationship. The distributed nature of the data collection points in social media could have the accidental effect of causing businesses to put more work in on the “R” part of CRM. If that’s all that ever comes of it (and it won’t be), then social CRM will still have done a lot to move CRM toward its potential.