The Paradox of Social CRM

social CRM paradox big data mdm crmThere’s a warm feeling you get when you walk into a familiar place. When the staff knows you by name, greets you with delight and serves up “the usual”, you feel honored, respected and welcome. This is the differentiator between the “mom and pop shop” and the mega mall; between the corner store and the conglomerate.

Obviously, economies of scale have brought more corporations into small towns and prompted more small business owners to consider early retirement. There are a number of cultural commentaries on this shift, from the country songs of Alan Jackson to the movies like “You’ve Got Mail.” I won’t attempt to offer a value judgement on the shift. It is what it is and it isn’t going away. What I hope to discuss is how to create a courteous culture WHILE increasing efficiency.

Social CRM is a paradox: Could it really be possible to increase corporate efficiency and customer-facing courtesy at the same time? Isn’t it a direct conflict between two worlds, two opposing value systems or schools of thought?

It is paradoxical, but it is NOT impossible. To deliver a superior customer experience in the era of digital empowerment, corporations have to accomplish two different, but complementary objectives. They must become:

  1. Increasingly rigid in their back-end data implementation standards.
  2. Increasingly permissive in their front-end customer service empowerment.

At first glance, it seems absurd that I’d recommend becoming both more rigid and more permissive at the same time. Let me explain: The modern customer expects convenience. They do not appreciate being forced to wait. They don’t appreciate feeling treated as a number, forced into a queue, re-authenticated at every transfer and sent into labyrinthine loops of endless decision trees. They want courteous, friendly, personal service. They want to speak to an employee who is empowered to solve their issue, not to read them a script.

That said, the back-end data in many large organizations is in disarray. I’ve heard tales of scattered CRMs, built through acquisitions and left unlinked. I’ve heard laments about CRMs segmented by silos and guarded by political power struggles. Perhaps the sales team has one system, the support team another and marketing, yet another still. In addition, data integrity standards within CRM records are often loosely enforced, or resisted in a passive aggressive way, due to departmental conflicts.

All of these CRM systems have one thing in common: They all hold information about PEOPLE – Human beings that must be honored, respected and treated kindly for the brand to survive the new world. Without impeccable data management, corporations will not be able to empower their front line effectively to provide the personalized service the modern era requires.

Here is what must be done

A Cross-Functional Data Alignment Initiative

The IT departments must work in concert with Sales, Marketing and Support to ensure that the corporation has a single customer record per HUMAN. This record MUST include the sales history, the service history, the license history, the maintenance history, the preferences, the contact information AND, now, the social media identification. This type of thorough knowledge, consistently applied is the key to empowering the front line staff to succeed.

A Culture of Empowered Customer-Advocates

The front-end employees and their managers must be taught the value of customer loyalty. There must be a shift from short-term metrics like Average Handle Time (AHT) toward long-term metrics like Customer Lifetime Value. The customer-engaged staff must be retrained to believe that reputation and loyalty matter more than speed and process adherence. We must move from scripted to empathetic, from “as fast as we can” to “whatever it takes.”

For these empowered front-line reps to succeed, they must KNOW who they are serving as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. The more regimented the back-end data is, the more empowered the front-line staff will be. The more the CSR knows about the customer, the more effectively they can serve them.

I say it CAN be done. I say we GET it done. What do you say?

11 Responses to “The Paradox of Social CRM”

  1. Love this Tristan. It is so refreshing to see someone tackling the nuts and bolts of how exactly we execute a more social agenda in business while retaining (or *gasp* improving) the data and operational pieces required to do that cost-effectively.

    As the recent IBM study on CMO’s made clear, resolving this paradox is probably the number one challenge of marketing leaders in the short term.

    Thanks again for a great article.

    • Most welcome, Clemens.

      As you requested on Twitter, I will certainly say more on the subject. It’s what I’m working on day to day, and I think it’s essential for forward-thinking brands.

  2. Really interesting article. It’s a real paradox – getting big because of your customer service means that as you grow you have to be able to continue to serve customers at an extremely high level. Breaking down silos is the obvious solution – one system across all departments.

    It’s interesting to see investment in technologies such as voice analysis/ IVR solutions to create automated supoprt pulling in one direction, whilst the demands and expectations of the customer using SocialCRM means they want a personalized response from a human.

    • Exactly, Tom. Spot on.

      The customer wants humanity and management is drawn toward automation.

      There is a way to use automation to equip human service providers: That is the path toward “win/win” in the space.

  3. While we move into becoming more advanced and as we conceptualize solutions to better serve various customer needs, we have placed in mind that correspondence and getting in-touch with clients has not to left behind.

  4. I think the main problem most companies have this day in age is where to draw the line, between automated support and a real human on the other end of the phone. I found this article when searching for an automated social CRM that would integrate user information when they call in for customer support.

    Do you have any recommendations for integrating customer data? For instance I’ve seen many corporations that have different data for the same consumer spread across 5 different departments. Obviously integrating it all into the same system is a priority, but how much fiscal expense would it reduce?

    • It is a huge priority for me to integrate customer data. Where I work, we have a shared cross-functional mission to do exactly that. It requires deliberate and intentional collaboration by leaders at the highest level. But we all know that the end goal, the ability to serve, support and understand our customers, from start to finish, is well worth it.

  5. I agree with all the pieces of this article, most time brands forget about their customers as they grow and ignore the fact that it is the hard earn money of these customers that is bring their growth. Every single customer is important and needs to be given the attention deserved.

    I think you are already doing it and we will help to get it done. This is how we have started contributing

    • I couldn’t agree more. Every customer matters, and is either a potential advocate or adversary. Leading with intentional kindness is the path to building loyalty and long-term value.


  1. – The Blog Library - May 21, 2012

    […] The Paradox of Social CRM Filed Under: Business/Business Development, CRM, Customer Service Tagged With: Bishop Tristan […]

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