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Blame Change for Social CRM's Plodding Pace

By Christopher J. Bucholtz CRM Buyer ECT News Network
May 24, 2012 5:00 AM PT

I remember being an impatient kid when something I really wanted was on its way. The first time I was aware of my parents mail-ordering something for me (I think it was a baseball jersey I especially coveted) I can recall bombarding them with a chorus of the phrase, "when is it going to get here?"

Blame Change for Social CRM's Plodding Pace

I realize now that hearing a six-year-old ask that question 300 times a day for three or four days was genuine torture for my parents. I'm glad the World Court has no juvenile department, or I would have spent my childhood in a cell in the Hague.

But what goes around comes around. Nowadays, I'm hearing many people ask, "when is it going to get here?" This time, however, the people asking are in business, and the item they're waiting to have delivered is something a bit more valuable than a baseball shirt with Catfish Hunter's name and number on it. They're waiting for Social CRM to arrive.

Really, they're waiting for it to arrive in a version that works for their businesses. The pieces of social CRM are out there, but they're still dispersed; there's no CRM application you can buy that delivers an out-of-the-box social CRM approach that's right for all users. By the way, that's also often the case for CRM when the "social" prefix isn't included, so anyone who's been fighting the CRM wars for any amount of time should not be surprised by this.

But the technology does exist -- and it's evolving rapidly. The issue is not that the technology does not exist -- the issue is that businesses are not particularly well suited to dramatic changes.

Accepting Change

Social CRM requires several dramatic changes within businesses to work. All are difficult to implement.

First comes the real change from a focus on business processes to a focus on the customer. All businesses claim to be customer-focused, but the reality is that most of them focus most of their collective brainpower on running processes that help only the business. In order to get to social CRM, this very essential aspect of corporate culture (which has been needed since the earliest days of "traditional" CRM) needs to be addressed.

The next change is to the way the business views its own processes. A more social business needs to change rapidly, and to do that requires a willingness to accept challenges to existing processes with an open mind -- and then move ruthlessly to replace or repair processes that aren't working.

It's not about coddling the managers inside the company who may feel their ox is being gored; it's about creating processes that lead to better customer experiences and increasingly valuable input from its customers.

But the biggest change needed is a cultural acceptance of change itself. The pace of change an organization can accommodate is not terribly fast -- and it is usually slower than the pace of change of customer behaviors or of technology. That's one of the reasons we all have this "when is social CRM going to get here" attitude.

By the time an organization has changed enough to introduce one aspect of social CRM into the way it does business, so much change has taken place that it seems like the organization's even farther behind -- and it probably is.

The Slow Revolution

Let's imagine a business with a very aggressive take on social CRM and social media technology. It might look at the technology landscape like a menu and pick the best solutions for its needs in monitoring, sentiment analysis and community management -- and throw in marketing automation and lead management to augment this. It might also implement a CRM solution that links to this system in an organic way with activity streams and other means of capturing customer social data.

Then, it unleashes this newly created social CRM system on it users. Could the users in your business handle this rapid change? Does it map to the way they work today, or does it require them to completely change their work processes? Even with extensive training, how soon could they maximize their use of these tools?

I call this discrepancy between the pace of change of customers, technologies and organizations "the slow revolution." Businesses want to keep pace with customers as they change the ways they communicate, but that change is made more difficult by the organizational structures of most businesses.

Customers can change at will; employees in an organizational structure have to change on cue, as a team, and in ways that reflect those customer changes in a complementary way. New activities may replace old ones, or they may be layered on top of what the employee already does. While the customer does what the customer wants on a whim, the organization's reaction to that change is necessarily more complex.

As customers evolve, business struggles to keep up and evolve with them -- because their evolution is more complex. That means the pace of change toward social CRM seems slow -- and, really, whenever you understand the benefits of new technologies and processes, the time you spend putting things in place to reap those benefits can seem interminable. That's when you find yourself asking, "When is it going to get here?"

CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at the CRM Outsiders. He has been a technology journalist for 17 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written three books on World War II aviation.

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