Time to Let Your Customers Run Your Business?

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To hardened capitalists the title of this article represents the ultimate nightmare; gangs of well-meaning but unskilled (and largely inept) enthusiasts running inefficient, ultimately doomed, committee-led enterprises. Great for village fetes, bad for business.

To most of us, CRM has always meant a big old database that different departments can access and update to maintain information about customers, partners, suppliers etc.  On the face of it, social CRM looks like a logical extension of this – adding social media data to existing systems, albeit automatically and cleverly – but let’s be clear, it really isn’t.

Social CRM is described by one of the world’s most respected experts on this topic - Paul Greenberg - as, “The company’s response to the customer’s control of the conversation”. This isn’t something you can do with a tool or service. It requires listening to your customers and working out how you can use that information to benefit them and you.

In this sense, social CRM is a strategy that goes beyond technology and tools.  It’s about reviewing the customer-facing operations of your business and adopting a ’social’ business model. This will inevitably require some system or other, but the first step is a cross-departmental strategy tied to listening and engagement. The Altimeter Group give a pretty comprehensive overview of the use cases for social CRM within most businesses (see image above) and they’ve also produced a report to explain how to develop your strategy.

But some commentators go further. Brian Solis famously tweeted last year, “Pay attention to Doc Searls’ work…VRM represents the future of social CRM”. Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) gives control of the relationship back to the customer and strives to break any notion of customer ‘lock-in’.  This seems far-fetched at the moment – but when popular business networks, such as LinkedIn, start offering such services, the end-customer (us!) will control both the conversation and the data.

Frank Eliason, formerly @comcastcares, currently SVP Social Media at Citi, will be speaking on “building a lifetime of trust” with customers at Social CRM 2011 New York on 3rd November. Tickets are $195 but you can get a 10% discount using this code:  BUZZ10

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