At the Altimeter Group, I cover Customer Strategy, which encompasses not only marketing, but also support, expect our discussion to grow as social technologies impact the whole enterprise.
The Social Support movement is afoot (see opportunities), and more companies will be connecting existing marketing and support systems with the social web. Many companies, like Comcast, Wells Fargo, Intel, BestBuy, JetBLue are responding to customers and in some cases, supporting them in near real time.
The challenge is that these teams are unable to scale, even a support team of ten full time folks at Comcast will have a hard time responding to all customers in all social channels. As a result, expect companies to resort to scalable ways to respond to customers, such as:
The Four Social Support Strategies
1) Do Nothing: Use Legacy Support Channels
Some companies will not respond to customers, it’s not in their culture, exposes them to risk, have specific legal or federal restrictions in place, or simply don’t get this space. In this case, these companies may only choose to support customers in their formal forms of support in 1800 numbers or on the official company websites
2) Employee Based Support: Employees Respond to Customers
Many companies are assigning people in their support or product teams to respond to customers in the social web. The more conservative the company, the less people are officially able to support. Take for example financial services company Wells Fargo has a handful of “Social Concierges” that tweet on the @Ask_WellsFargo account, they set expectations around hours of service (insert banker’s hours joke here) and not to disclose account information. On the flip side, Best Buy encourages their thousands and thousands of “Blue Shirt” employees to respond using a Twitter CMS system that response from the official @Twelpforce account.
3) Peer Based Support: Customer to Customer Other companies will approach this by encouraging their top customers to respond on their behalf. By creating online communities where customers can self-support each other using Q&A features like Salesforce “Answers”, or my Lithium’s unique Twitter alerting system that encourages advocates to respond to prospects. (Lithium is an Altimeter Group client). It’s not just on branded communities, many companies encourage support from third party sites such as Get Satisfaction, who centralizes support for all products.
4) Automated Social Support: Computer Generated Tweets
Social CRM systems are going to be intelligent, in fact, they’ll start to incorporate bot-like features you can find in web-based chat support, or the logic from interactive voice systems (IVR), and respond to customers. Support and product teams can already tweet from some CRM interfaces, so attaching an intelligence module will be the next step –it could even come from existing employee Twitter handles.
Web Strategy Matrix: The Four Social Support Strategies
|Rely on Legacy Systems
||This keeps customers in the right process and funnel that the company is used to. Secondly, it doesn’t reinforce that customers should yell at their friends to get help from a company
||Missed opportunities: Angry customers could revolt starting a Groundswell, or leave an opportunity for competitors to swoop in and take dissatisfied customers.
|Employee to Customer
||Provides a personal touch to help and assist customers, builds relations and trust
||For large companies, this is not scalable, and will result in companies prioritizing responses to the most authoritative or most urgent. If rolled out to support in all social avenues, it can be costly. Lastly, it teaches customers to yell at their friends to get support.
|Peer Based Support
||Companies can reduce costs by having customers self-support each other. Collectively, customers may often know more about the company’s products than the actual product team.
||Unfortunately, not all questions may get answered in a timely way, or answered correctly by staff who may have the inside details. Also, content in knowledge bases, wikis, forums, and Q&A features are often unstructured, messy, and hard to navigate.
|Automated Social Support
||Companies can quickly scale by responding to customers faster, and more accurately, using automated responses.
||Some customers may feel cheated if they find out they are talking to a bot, and it may be more difficult to build that personal relationship.
Update: I polled my microblogging network on which brands have supported them on Twitter, see which brands have ‘taught’ their customers to yell at their friends.
Recently, I started teaching puppy Rumba tricks beyond the basic sit and stay, I even made a video. How do I do it? I show him the move, then praise and reward him once it’s done. Repeat, over and over. Although customers aren’t dogs, (save for Purina and Dogster), we’re slowly training our customers that if they want better customer support, that they should say it loudly and in public –thereby influencing their friends.
[As companies accelerate their social support efforts, responding to customers in public reinforces the behavior of complaining to everyone they know]
An Increase In Companies Providing Social Support
The most notable example is ComcastCares who is more responsive to customers using Twitter than on the phone. Secondly, the recent customer service flareup reported by popular blogger Dooce forced the Whirlpool to respond to her when she wasn’t satisfied with support from the call center. BestBuy launched Twelpforce, a way for its thousands of employees to answer questions from anyone that has a problem. Want more examples? See these recent examples for B2C and B2B.
Three Opportunities For Companies To Evolve Customer Support
This isn’t just about rise of social tools, in fact, customers have had bad experiences before. The difference? Their voices were just limited to those they could tell in physical proximity. Rather than think of this as a threat, companies should see this as three distinct opportunities:
- Fix the root issues, beyond the customer vocalizations. Looking deeper, this isn’t about social technologies, it’s really an indicator that the support systems within these companies are deficient. In many cases, customers try the standard support effort, hit a wall, then seek other avenues for self-venting, help, or just sheer observations of their frustrations.
- Transform your support processes and go where customers are.Companies should continue to support customers on the mediums that they’re using (like social sites and soon mobile), as they are unlikely to change their existing behavior of being social and telling friends about their life and work experiences. Expect companies to grapple with outsourced crowdsupport in GetSatisfaction, UserVoice, Facebook Groups, Yahoo Answers, and community bulletin boards.
- Evolve your support systems to connect with the modern marketplace. Expect a rash of social CRM features, companies and solutions to appear that connect existing call systems, knowledge boards, and customer databases with the public web –closing the gap that was once the firewall.
In the end, there will be hundreds of companies that won’t care what customers think, or have their margins squeezed to tightly they can’t afford to innovate and may suffer the fate of any organism that doesn’t evolve in a changing environment. This is an easy fix: their competitors will listen in, and poach their unsatisfied customers.
Update: Jennifer Leggio extends the conversation, and sees the same trend
Left Image: Companies can monitor and manage the discussions in their marketplace, screenshot of Jive Market Engagement
This post was collaboratively written on a wiki with my colleague R “Ray” Wang who focuses on enterprise strategies such as CRM. My focus is on customer strategy which encompasses social technologies. Together, we’re covering convergence of the emerging and incumbent technology systems, he’s cross-posted on his own blog.
Summary: Jive Offers Brand Monitoring Using Radian6 –Empowering Companies To Quickly Respond
Jive Software made an announcement that they’re now incorporating listening service Radian 6 into their community platform suite, they dub it Jive Market Engagement. This gives internal teams that manage brands, topics, or influencers to discuss, manage, and assign tasks to follow up with real world –and real-time market events. An example? A company selling headache relief medicine can quickly be alerted to conversations with mommy bloggers in the social sphere, discuss in an internal, private community powered by Jive, then decide on how to quickly take action before it escalates.
Currently, companies are doing this in a mish-mash of manual efforts using scraped together RSS feeds, Google alerts, and Twitter clients. The benefits of this partnership? Companies can now become more organized around the real-time web, develop a process to quickly respond and therefore be more reactive to customers. Yet, despite the automation upside to brand and customer management, this causes yet another disparate pool of customer data that IT departments will have to splice together –potentially giving customers a fragmented view. Companies should nod to this latest trend of social business software converging with existing company systems and develop an information strategy.
Macro market forces foster new trends in adoption and risk:
Despite this announcement, there are greater trends at play that impact both business and IT side, be aware that:
Diverse systems converging, resulting in greater speed but more complexity
The push to improve customer intimacy, move to a proactive customer experience, and convergence of Web 2.0 with enterprise class social business apps, drives new models and solutions. We’re tracking this living breathing reef and see social software, CRM, brand monitoring, email, and mobile quickly converging.
More “CRM” features being deployed, without involving the CIO
Jive’s offering is really a customer relationship module in disguise, yet because of the web based offering, marketing can implement this psudo-CRM solution without involving IT. We continue to see technology adopted from business units -often at the frustration of not getting on the IT roadmap during budget tightening times.
Greater exposure to risk, as more siloed customer information fragments enterprise systems
Being responsive to customers is ideal, but in the long run, it’s not truly effective if you can’t integrate it with your sales, service, or marketing systems. In the end, fragmenting customer data will result in disjointed user experiences for customers as separate departments will have disparate data for each customer.
Jeremiah (business side) and Ray (IT side) come from completely two different worlds’ speaking two different languages. Yet they both know that these new technologies are going to force IT and Marketing to quickly come together. Expect to see more joint-blog posts merging these two groups together, because customers don’t care what department you’re in –they just want their problems solved.
Ray’s Take: For the CIO
Expect a proliferation of social media monitoring solutions to emerge with a tie back to CRM, eCommerce, project based solutions, and collaboration software. Disparate sources will create fractured customer experiences. Single 360 degree view must be assembled and reassembled.
- Find tools to aggregate these new channels and sources. Consider how these new social business software platfrms will integrate back into data warehouses or customer interaction histories.
- Focus on data integration skill sets as process, data,meta data across hybrid deployment models. Data integration and master data management will play a role here.
Jeremiah’s Take, For the CMO
Marketers should continue to be responsive to the real-time web, but quickly develop processes that involve other customer touchpoints such as support, service, and product development into the mix
- Don’t limit your responses to the corporate communication team and brand monitoring team –cascade this information quickly. While the discussions that will be had in Jive’s community platform will help to aid the customer triage problem, be sure to tie the process and data back to other customer facing teams. Remember, customers don’t care which department you are in.
- Use imported social data to create topic based aggregations. Looking forward, use the data that brand monitoring companies are unearthing and turn your product pages into trusted aggregations of conversations –not just static product pitches. Learn how future webpages will be more like collections of customer conversations.
The Altimeter Group is a strategy consulting firm focused on providing companies with a pragmatic approach to emerging technologies. Note: Ray had a minor changes and links added, which I’ve updated since original post.
Above: Pictures from Salesforce’s event
This post was co-written on a wiki with R “Ray” Wang, Partner and Colleague at Altimeter Group
Salesforce launches a new set of social apps that make CRM connected to the social web. So what does it mean?
Salesforce’s Twitter integration and application launch helps brands monitor what’s being said. Yet despite the fanfare, the application lacks a pre-determined way to identify the profiles of Twitter profiles and primary keys within the CRM database. Secondly, the system doesn’t provide a default setting to prioritize the influence (such as more followers) vs a profile with few followers –limiting the ability for brands to prioritize their support offerings.
Salesforce’s “Answers” product is a threat to community platforms that offer support-heavy features. Vendors like Lithium (although a SF partner) Jive, Telligent, Awareness, and Mzinga are impacted. Brands that have a strong SalesForce implementation will first look to their CRM vendor for social support offerings –reducing the pipeline for community platform new comers.
The newly minted “Knowledge” product, which harvests the IP from customer service reps, and customers themselves is also a direct threat to wiki creators such as SocialText, Atlasian. Those vendors should quickly bolster their marketing efforts to demonstrate how they are differentiated. Client server based contact center products will face increased competition as business users choose to move to platforms that deliver provide greater social aspects tied to user generated content.
Despite Salesforce’s technical announcement, this doesn’t mean success for their customers. Technology is only 20% of any enterprise change, the other 80% is culture, process, roles, and strategy change –key requirements that Salesforce is not equipped to provide. As a result, don’t expect customers that don’t have the right program in place to take advantage of these technology offerings –instead expect vendors with a heavy professional service offering to empower a company to truly embrace customers in the social web.
Overall, Salesforce is above and beyond other CRM vendors in terms of connecting to the social web. Yet despite their ability to connect with new channels, they lack a full solution to empower brands to make the cultural changes within their orginiazations. Expect other CRM vendors such as Oracle’s Social CRM offerings and Microsoft Dynamics CRM to do a “me too” in coming months as others jump on the social CRM bandwagon.
For the CIO: R “Ray” Take: The coming wave of social CRM initiatives and cloud based service solutions require CIO’s to rethink about their overall apps strategies to support hybrid deployment options. Rapid proliferation of SaaS solutions inside the organization requires strong CIO leadership in coordinating data, business process, and metadata integration strategies. Moreover, now will be the time to begin master data management activities that will support social CRM initiatives and resolve profile identification and entity resolution issues. Take control now or lose control forever.
For the CMO: Jeremiah’s Take: Marketing has spread beyond awareness and lead generation –support IS marketing. Yet to be successful, your internal processes must quickly meld PR and support to provide a seamless experience to the customer. Be proactive, not reactive: Use brand monitoring technologies to head off issues before they volcano into PR disasters.