Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Evolution of Social CRM

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has now been established as a valuable tool for today’s business for a number of years. The advantages it can bring have been well documented and its combination of sales, marketing and customer service have made it a game changer for many companies. But like all such tools in the modern business world, CRM has started to evolve.

Over the past year it has become increasingly apparent that the future of CRM is Social CRM. What may at first seem to be a subtle shift is in fact a revolution in the way in which companies address sales, marketing and support services.

CRM itself was a significant step forward in the way in which it helped companies collate disparate information on their customers (for example, address details with purchase history and shopping trends) and make this available to their key departments. This led to a much-improved level of service for the customer and increased profitability for many companies.

As good as CRM was (and still is), the evolution of Social CRM is a real game changer for many companies. The move from CRM to Social CRM takes in many areas and any company that has not yet made the move or is considering whether it is worthwhile, should consider these areas carefully as they stand a real chance of being left behind by their competitors should they ignore all it has to offer.
  • Where CRM was a strategy, Social CRM can be seen as a mixture of strategy with a whole new philosophy. It is this new philosophy that makes it such a revolutionary concept. Essentially, Social CRM puts the customer in a central position. Not as may have happened before when businesses talked about the customer being at the centre of what they do in a vague, PR-based manner; but in a real, practical sense. Social CRM does this by creating a two-way dialogue in which customers’ comments and feedback actively play a part in a business’s strategy and its key players engage with the customer base.
  • Social CRM has evolved away from the idea of specific departments being responsible for CRM into a worldview in which all departments and all staff play a role in what is a much more symbiotic relationship.
  • The role of the company in dictating what information is released and what products are developed is being superseded by a much more customer-orientated process through social media channels.
  • Key messages that would have once been sent from the business to its customers are now bidirectional. Via social media platforms, customers comment, debate and engage in discussion about products and services with each other and with members of the business involved. For example, product developers may blog about what he or she is working on and use the comments feature to get feedback and suggestions. This process can open up a dialogue that makes the customer a much larger part of the company’s marketing and development process.
  • The evolution of Social CRM does not only affect the interaction between company and customer, but has practical implications such as business hours. In the past these would have been set by the business, but the advent of social media means that the customer is increasingly setting them. There is little point in hoping for vibrant discussion if business representatives are only available between 9-5 when most users will not be online. By having staff available outside these hours, companies are much more likely to be able to engage in mutually beneficial debate and discussion.
There is no doubt that as with all evolutionary processes, the move from CRM to Social CRM is a step that some may baulk at making. However, on closer inspection, companies should realize that just because they have done something one way for years (even decades) does not mean it is the right way for the future. Their customers are in many cases a massive untapped resource that they would be foolish to ignore.

The evolution of Social CRM is a mutually beneficial step forwards for both customers and the companies involved.