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The Customer, as Social CRM, is the Fourth Pillar of CRM

Posted by smoothspan on September 9, 2009

A collection of excellent blog posts from the Social CRM community are converging on what I think is the real secret of what Social CRM is all about. 

There has been much talk about the “Pillars of CRM”.  Traditionally we have Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service as the three pillars of CRM.  Clearly the world has changed.  I talk at some length about how in the first of a series of blog posts we’ve taken to calling Helpstream’s “Social CRM Manifesto“.  Give that article a read for a good introduction to how the Customer has come to be in Control, a development which impacts every aspect of how companies deal with Customer Relationship Management.  We’ll be publishing the Manifesto as a series that all hangs together and tells the story of Social CRM, at least the way we see it at Helpstream.

Getting back to the excellent series of posts, the first one I read was by Esteban Kolsky and has the wonderful Hawking-esque title, “A Brief History of CRM.”  He’s pushing the idea that Feedback is the Fourth Pillar.  For me, making Feedback that Fourth Pillar is close, but no cigar.  CRM as its practices today is at heart a command and control system, and Feedback as a role for the customer fits into that World View perfectly (it should, Esteban knows one heck of a lot about CRM!).  My problem is that it is way too passive a description of the role the Customer will play in our brave new world, and some of the comments on the post are also uncomfortable for that reason.  We will no doubt define Feedback in a way that seems more active, but it just doesn’t do it for me.  Make no mistake about it, the Customer is in Control.  Ignore at your own peril.  This is why I am so fond of using Paul Greenberg’s short definition of Social CRM which is that it is what companies do when the customer is in control of the conversation.  That’s why I say the Customer themselves are that Fourth Pillar.  They now have a seat at your table, more on that in a moment.

Esteban and I have been trading Tweets on whether Social CRM is really a new paradigm that changes everything, or whether it is more like a new channel or refinement to CRM.  This of course is an argument that erupts at the beginning of every paradigm shift.  It is uncomfortable when things don’t fit the old model and the established priesthood wants to make things fit.  Ultimately, this is semantics.  When the Social CRM revolution is over, it will be part of CRM.  We don’t need to rebuild the whole wheel.  But for the time being, it is productive to consider the two separately.  Make no mistake: Social CRM is not about replacing CRM at all.  It is productive to insist that Social CRM be integrated with CRM, but not to view it as a subset or adjunct fifth wheel to CRM.  The reason is that any subset or adjunct might be viewed as optional.  It might be viewed that CRM will inform the adjunct what to do and how to operate, not vice versa.  Neither one is true, and the fundamental changes the web has wrought in the power of the customer make that clear.  That’s why I keep harping on it as paradigm shift.  Social CRM will change CRM much more than CRM will shape Social CRM.  When that change is complete, that will be the time to put away the banners and place Social CRM strictly under the CRM banner.  Until then, we have a lot of work to do to get organizations to understand the transformative power that Social CRM makes available.

The next great article I came across this morning was Enabling Social CRM is a Convergence of E2.0 and CRM.  This one really expands on the idea that the Customer needs to become an integral part of the Enterprise.  That’s my Customer-as-Fourth-Pillar idea in a nutshell, and is captured with this great quote:

Should it be such a leap to suggest that in order to truly engage the customer, we should invite them into our Enterprise?

Amen!  Now that is what engagement is all about.  That makes sense to me.  The best practitioners of the CRM art actually understood this before Social CRM came along, but so few actually did anything about it, that I continue to rebel against just viewing Social CRM as “more of the same.”  There are profoundly different ways to think about it.  In this case, Esteban himself is eloquent in a comment on this post (that’s why I know our argument is just semantics and he really does “get it”):

And the biggest shift we are seeing is not on technology, people (enterprise), or process – it is in the society and the customer.  The customer model we used for the past 2,000 years or so is no longer the norm.  We can setup any technology (easy, really) to support any processes we want, and train our people to do things in many different ways. But in doing all that we are not really looking at the source of all this change — the customer.

Absolutely positively 100% true, true, true.  And that last part about it not being just process is where you just have to feel Social CRM in your bones.  You either want to engage with your customers, giving them a seat at your management table as your real Fourth Pillar, or you don’t. 

If you don’t, you’re going to apply the old CRM ways and view the new Social as just a set of tools or a new channel to tack on.  This is not so bad.  I read a great story that describes exactly that model this morning too.  It describes a case where someone got terrible customer service, Tweeted about it, and suddenly they got excellent service.  What’s wrong with that picture?  Why did I have to Tweet in the first place?  Why did the company in question place me in a position of having to tell an unhappy story through the powerful megaphone that is Social Media?   Yes, the story ended well for the Tweeter, but in the end, a bad story got told.  In fact it got told not just in the Tweet but in the blog post.  It’s clearly better than a pure-CRM model, but viewing Social CRM as an “escalation mode” where you do what it takes to satisfy the screamers is just not the way to approach Social CRM.

Enough said.  The best news is that we live in a world where Social CRM is rapidly moving more and more mainstream.  The Social CRM conversation is refining and distilling it all down very quickly.  The players in the CRM market are making acquisitions and partnerships (we partner with Salesforce and Oracle, for example) and realizing that Social CRM is not optional.