Social CRM-¡Viva la Revolución!

Customer relationship management (CRM) has had a great impact on the social media revolution. Or was it the other way around? Of the many types of software solutions catering to businesses, CRM software has been the most attuned to the rise of social platforms. CRM resides in the attitudes and perception of people and what they acquire, individually or as a group. Social media is the place where people pride themselves with what they can afford. The marriage between social media and CRM seems rather unnatural only in the sense that social media is still relatively young while CRM has been around for many years.

The advent of social media has been viewed as a revolution—the Gavroche of the new millennium. Some say that it tipped the balance in favor of Mr. Obama in the 2008 US presidential election campaign. And that it connected the participants to the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street events, encouraged engagement between individuals with similar interests across the world, etc.

Consider these statements from a popular social media channel:

“Here’s what I read: . . .”

                “My new [brand name] phone is awful!”

                “Going to watch ‘Breathless.’ Anybody in?”

What overarching feeling do you think people are left with?

For businesses, this means waves of hard-to-control customer information. In other words, tons of daily unstructured data describing not only the engagement of customers with their purchases, but also the general attitudes and beliefs of those customers.

Classic CRM Software Does not Address Customer Attitudes

Traditional or classic CRM deals with structured data and provides a limited view into customer experiences and habits. This data is typically collected by customer-facing professionals who essentially classify singular customer actions into fixed categories. Ultimately, the information that is collected does not reflect general attitudes such as brand awareness or company perception.

Furthermore, prior to the advent of social media, clients’ engagement with organizations and their products was not something that was measured. But once social media platforms emerged as the all-knowing consultant addressing a great deal of individual inquiries, there was no other choice but to assess how people feel.

Classic CRM software is a transactional system designed for storing and managing data to facilitate sales automation processes. It revolves around human actions that are viewed as prone to standardization (for instance: storing client information, responding to client requests, and informing the client of new offerings). In contrast, the social aspect of managing customer interactions makes standardization very difficult, if not impossible, owing to the large number of interactive events and the multichannel nature of the communication.

Social CRM—Sentiment Analysis Is Not Enough

Social CRM (SCRM) attempts to stay on top of the unpredictable nature of social media by employing sophisticated analytics that peep into customer data. Sentiment analysis, for instance, can be applied to unstructured text to uncover the vibes percolating among prospect or current clients.

Nevertheless, employing analytics to unstructured data cannot lead to a structured course of action—simply because sentiments do not follow a clear trajectory. They involve senses, dive into the personal and collective consciousness and unconsciousness, are aired through words, and remain partially undefined even after language has been applied to them. Sentiments may linger forever unsatisfied.

Processes designed to derive value in CRM—just like language—are important when dealing with customer relationships. But, under the intimidating gaze of the social nebula they are insufficient. This leaves intuition, spontaneity, and improvisation in charge of SCRM. Organizations might need to include psychologists, sociologists, and maybe even historians in their teams of customer-facing professionals if they are to keep up with clients’ fickle hearts.

In conclusion, for businesses, the most important consequence of the social revolution was the production of a broader view of the customer. The irony is that although the image is more comprehensive, it does not make for an easier relationship with the customer. In fact, SCRM is now witness to intense exchanges as it awaits action. In a future post I will present my perspective on the potential benefits of tapping into SCRM to transform the attitudes of both businesses and their customers.
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