Are you seizing social to see yourself as customers see you?

By Chris Bucholtz

At the CRM Evolution show last week in rainy New York City, the Tuesday morning “breakfast session” hosted by Paul Greenberg was a notable gathering. The names in the room went beyond the panelists; the audience was full of big-name analysts, executives and smarty-pantses. Had a meteor hit this room, the CRM industry would have been set back at least three and a half years (hey, CRM moves fast!).

The conversation started out around customer experience, which naturally veered toward customer service, a major component of how you experience the businesses you buy from, and how it’s intersecting with social media. Chuck Schaeffer of CRM Search made a cogent point: “Four years ago, you could be a bad company with a good product and get away with it.” Today, however, that’s not so: if you show disregard to customer, soon other prospective customers are going to know about it. It won’t matter how great your product is because few people will want to buy from you.

Natalie Petouhoff made a similar observation: Social is giving vendors a conscience.

Now, certainly, most vendors are not sociopathic and remorseless, if only because companies (much like Soylent Green) are made of people. It is the rare gainfully-employed person who takes glee in harming, angering or antagonizing his or her customers. Oh, they’re out there – but an entire organization of such people is unlikely to create satisfied customers, and as Peter Drucker said, that’s the only reason for a business to exist.

What Natalie and Chuck were getting at is not that social media forces a Scrooge-like conversion from a heartless jackal into a customer-loving softy. Instead, it’s a bit more simple: social media forces company leadership to confront the way their businesses are perceived – a perception that can be altered by ill-conceived processes, creeping apathy and the insulation of leadership from what’s going on where the company and customer touch.

Social forces the business to shake off its own perceptions of itself and consider the perceptions of customers, instead – which is the way it should have been all along.

So, even if you never plan on creating a social CRM strategy, it behooves you to get social – not for the pie-in-the-sky-seeming sales and marketing reasons that people cite (which are not really pie-in-the-sky once you get past the crust) but for an even more important reason. As Robert Burns wrote, “O would some power the gift to give us/to see ourselves as others see us.” Social media is that power. When Burns was writing his poem “To a Louse,” social media was still 260 years from becoming a reality. Today, you have the gift he was talking about, presented in a form he never could have imagined.

Are you going to take advantage of it? Or are you going to ignore a valuable peek into how your business is perceived?