Organizations are getting social, whether they like it … or not. In their report “Social CRM: The New Rules of Relationship Management“, Altimeter Group‘s R “Ray” Wang and Jeremiah Owyang detail 18 use cases to help businesses react to the advent of social media into business process and suggest ways for these businesses to move forward in a brave new social world. Wang and Owyang take a pragmatic, stepped approach to adding social capabilities in the organization, advising businesses to start slow, compliment existing processes, and to focus on business value.
I think that the Altimeter Group and others are making great strides at describing what businesses and executives should do to learn about the landscape of the Social CRM space, understand the vendors, and identify which areas would benefit most from a “social” overlay on traditional business practice. Yet I think that these analysts could be even more accurate about the challenges and opportunities facing businesses who seek to implement Social CRM (and indeed, customer-centric business practices of all types) if they focused on the identification, cultivation, and motivation of the Trust Agents in their organization, and figured out how to explain them to everyone else.
By Trust Agent, I’m referring to Chris Brogan‘s concept that people succeed inside of organizations by mimicking the same skills they would have to use on the outside as freelancers and solo practitioners. In short, the success of Social CRM depends upon understanding the social dynamics within your own company as much as it does the social dynamics of your product and brand as expressed in the marketplace. That sounds challenging — and it is — but there’s another thing too. If you want that DNA to work and your employees to express it out in the world, it means that anyone who has customer insight and customer impact also needs to understand those Trust Agents in your organization who are engaging with customers.
(A disclaimer: as a practitioner of CRM — having rolled out a Knowledge Management suite at a Fortune 500 company — and as a vendor of Social CRM, as the Customer Experience Manager for a vendor in the field, I’ve been the Change Agent, the person who explains the change agent to C-level execs, and the frustrated internal resource wondering why consultants can solve a problem when the internal resources aren’t trusted to do the same thing.)
This sounds like a bit of a contradiction, as many of the internal corporate communications personnel and other folks who manage social media and CRM efforts are probably reading the Altimeter group’s report and wondering: “How can I write policies that will support my employee efforts in social media, promote and understand my brand, and not look silly?” Enabling Trust Agents within the company and trying to explain them to everyone else must sound a little crazy. Yet it’s working already. Look at Zappos. Look at Best Buy. Look at Comcast. These are organizations where the brand has become exemplified by individuals trying to provide service in the right way to customers. These companies don’t always get it right. But they’re trying.
So what’s next, and what should analysts like the Altimeter group be working on for their next report? Quantifying the behaviors that result in measurable change and meaningful increases in customer satisfaction, correlated to the behavior of representatives of a company in social media. I’m not trying to suggest that a multi-variate regression is going to account for all of the crazy noise out there in customerland: I am trying to suggest that there are specific people in your organization who are engaging with customers right now. Understanding the positive aspects of this interaction and building a new set of skills around networking and engaging with customers (and quantifying how you can track these interactions through your CRM system) is key to future success. Some of your employees will embrace this change — but many will not, thinking and feeling that their social media outlets are personal and not professional — and we’re all going to be building a new vocabulary and set of business behaviors around adding social media to traditional business process. I’m happy to be along for the ride.