Friday 26 February 2010

The Emperor’s new Social CRM clothes

"How do I look?"
"Wonderful, your majesty! Your new Social CRM coat really brings out your customer-centric side"
"Do you really think so? It was made by the tailors in Silicon Valley you know, using the very latest Fabric-as-a-Service (FaaS). The fabric is so fine it looks almost invisible"
"Incredible, your highness. You look just like the King of Zappos, or his Royal Highness, the Prince of"
"Excellent. What do you think my subjects will think?"
"They will marvel Sire. They have long expressed a desire for you to set up a Facebook Fan Page so that they may honour you"

Make no mistake, I am a huge advocate of Social CRM. To anyone who has worked in the CRM space for some time, it should make perfect sense. Social CRM completes CRM. It's the missing piece in the CRM puzzle that gives an organisation the potential to listen to the direct voice of the customer and use that feedback to co-create products and improve services. It allows an organisation to create a platform to facilitate and help customer to customer collaboration. If your customer's feel positive about their experiences they may chose to answer queries, recommend products and fix problems on your behalf (see my post on "Outsource your marketing, sales and service to your customers").

But, to clear, there are many things that Social CRM cannot do. I'd advocate that anyone embarking on a Social CRM journey understand these before they proceed.

Social CRM cannot compensate for poor products or services

If you core offering is poor (you can't deliver products on time or your widgets routinely break down after 6 months) then Social CRM is not a band-aid that will fix those issues. In fact, more likely, your customers will use social tools against you (see my post on "Star wars and Social CRM" – focus on the dark side of the force). Social CRM can however, help you to listen, understand the issues from the perspective of your customers and then improve and respond.

Learning and improving do not automatically follow listening

Social CRM provides a platform to listen to the customer's social voice. Many organisations who start deploying Social CRM technologies, start by deploying a listening platform. The key challenge, however, is translating the learning gained from listening to customers into improving products, services, offers etc. This is as much an organisational and cultural issue as it is a technology issue.

Social CRM does not replace CRM and cannot compensate for a poor CRM foundation

Customers turning to social channels to fix a service issue, often do so as a last resort once other options have failed. In a recent post on Virgin Media, I was recently positively surprised that someone had responded to my #fail tweet, however, I would argue that my service problem shouldn't have escalated to the level where I felt I had to tweet in the first place - all traditional CRM channels had let me down.

Social CRM does not guarantee customer participation or success

I recently read Jeff Jervis's blog post post where he recited the story of a newspaper published who asked Mark Zukerberg how he could go about building his own community. Mark responded; "you can't". The point he was making was that communities already existed and the right question to ask was how they could help them do what they wanted to do. The Social CRM world is already littered with the corpses of failed social marketing campaigns, that have tried to "engage" customers and entice them to participate in their viral community campaigns before they have listened and understood what their customers really wanted  (see example from UCC Coffee in Japan).

It's easy to get caught up with the hype of any technology. Most technology buyers end up buying far more functionality than they really need to solve the business problem that prompted them to begin evaluating technology in the first place. Whilst I am very bullish on the potential of Social CRM and constantly enthused by good examples of Social CRM in action, I think it's always worth looking in the mirror and considering with brutal honesty how your subjects (customers, employees shareholders etc) will feel about your new clothes!

Tuesday 23 February 2010

"Customer to Customer" and the legend of Kachiwachi

Often I ask clients to describe their multi-channel capabilities. Most start by focussing on the channels that they own and control like their contact centre, their web site, their field sales force. CRM taught us to think that way. But customer's don't necessarily abide by those rules. For many customers, peer to peer is often the first channel they use to interact with an organisation and it is certainly the channel that they trust the most. We all use the customer-to-customer channel to ask what our friends think, recommend a local supplier or fix a problem with a product (see my post on outsource your marketing, sales and service to your customers).

Recently I attended the Lithium launch event in London and I was introduced to Kachiwachi. Kachiwachi is not a buzzword or a new fangled management practice from Japan. Kachiwachi is an individual and a customer of Logitech who interacts on Logitech's customer support forum. In the last few years Kachiwachi has posted around 40,000 comments on Logitech's customer support forum and has earned the status of "Logi Legend". Since June 2006, when he joined the forum he has posted an average of around 900 comments per month, or 45 per working day. If Kachiwachi worked for Logitech he would probably be as productive as a part time customer support agent!

If each customer problem takes an average of 2 posts to fix, then by my reckoning KachiWachi has helped around 20,000 logitech customers fix problems with their webcams, speakers, mice etc. I'd guess that Logitech might have expected to pay around $3-5 per contact if they had fixed those problems themselves, so, in effect Kachiwachi has single-handedly saved Logitech between $60-100k over the last few years (minus of course a share of their customer support forum build and run costs).

In addition, through his advice, Kachwach has most likely influenced the Loyalty of many of the Logitech customers that he has helped. We know from an abundance of research that customers who have a problem that is fixed to their satisfaction and more loyal in the long term than customers who never complain. Kachiwachi has also almost certainly driven several successful cross and up-sells on Logitech's behalf. I'm pretty sure that people trust his advice more than they do a corporate press release or product sales pitch.

It doesn't take many active contributors like Kachiwachi to build a successful customer-to-customer channel. The challenge is finding out what contributors perceive as important to engage their services. For some it's personal brand and status, others are product enthusiasts (like Apple or Harley Davison fanatics), others may want material rewards. If you can find out what customers and your contributors want to get out of their communities and forums, then you stand a chance of finding a Kachiwachi and building a vibrant community. For the moment though, let me add my Kudos to the 484 votes Kachiwachi has currently received!

Disclaimer and disclosure - I've never worked with either Logitech or Kachiwachi so the cost savings I reference are purely hypothetical. If either would like to be interviewed for a follow up piece though please feel free to get in contact! 

Tuesday 9 February 2010

#VirginMedia - a customer’s perspective on Twitter service

Let me say from the outset that this is not a "Virgin Media lies Virgin Media sucks" post. I am a relatively happy Virgin Media customer and on balance I would recommend them to a friend; but my last customer service experience with them was mixed. I've chosen to case study the experience for precisely that reason. It's incredibly hard to create a good cross-channel, joined up customer service experience and get things right every time. Even the best companies struggle. Most organisations do some things well and some things badly. They are siloed, they fire-fight and they have done little more than dabble in social media. The purpose of this post is not to criticise Virgin Media, it's to highlight learning's from my recent dealing with them.

My experience with Virgin Media started when my broadband and cable TV went down. After 24 hours I called Virgin Media's help line. I hit their IVR, navigated the menu options to the technical support line, but just as I reached the end of the menu path my call was disconnected. I tried a further 4 times but was disconnected each time having spent around 4 minutes per call. Frustrated, I called again but this time I pressed random numbers on the IVR and I got through to an agent. The agent apologised and explained that there was maintenance going on in my area. He couldn't tell me when the maintenance would end but he offered to credit my account £10. Happy enough I hung up, but 24 hours later I still had no broadband. I used my iphone to check on Virgin Media's web site to see if there was a service update online but I couldn't find anything so I tweeted "#virginmedia broadband now down for 48 hrs. Disconnected from call centre IVR 5 times... #fail". To be honest I didn't expect a response to the tweet but within an hour I got a response. We exchanged messages and @virginmedia advised me that the maintenance affecting my broadband would continue for another 2 days; not great but at least I now had an answer. Sure enough, 2 days later my broadband was switched back on (co-incidentally, on the same day I received a marketing offer through my letterbox to sign up as a new customer to Virgin Media (!) I’ll leave Marketing, Sales and Service integration for another post!).

What do I take from this customer service experience?

The best service is no service

I don't know if the maintenance on my broadband was planned or unplanned. Either way, Virgin Media could have prevented my call. They could have written, e-mailed or sent me an SMS to let me know that maintenance was planned in my area before the event. Once a problem occurred, they could have identified accounts from the affected area and put a message onto their IVR or web site advising customers who called that they were currently experiencing problems that would be resolved in 72 hours and that they would be crediting £10 to all affected accounts. In some industries, consumer-to-consumer is becoming the best way to prevent service calls, with customer’s turning to support forums to fix their problems.

Multi-channel is dead; the challenge is cross channel

My experience with Virgin Media highlights the challenge that many organisations now face. I started my interaction in one channel (phone), shifted to another (online) and then another (Twitter). Customer's will increasingly look to switch channels at their convenience and expect to pick up processes where they left off. This challenge will only get tougher with the increasing emergence of social channels beyond the organisation’s formal control.

Customers don't mind self-service until it breaks

I have no problem with IVR technology per se, until it fails. I expect most customers feel the same. We now accept service automation but it has to be easy to use, crisis-proof and integrated into back up options. When Virgin Media's IVR failed, my call was disconnected; I couldn't navigate home and in the end I had to fool the IVR by selecting random options just so that I could speak to someone.

Technology doesn't build relationships; people do

When I eventually managed to speak to someone at Virgin Media they were both understanding and helpful. They didn't appear to be reading from a canned script, the agent seemed to be empowered to credit my account on the spot.

Expectations management should be ingrained across customer service

When the agent told me that maintenance was going on in my area he didn’t tell me how long it would continue, probably costing Virgin Media an unnecessary contact. My friend and colleague Reg Price nails this one. In his book Reliability Rules: How Promises Management Can Build Your Company Culture, Bid Your Brand, and Build Your Bottom Line, Reg lays out a comprehensive framework for setting and managing customer's expectations. 

Twitter is really starting to be a viable service channel and listening works

Virgin Media surprised me by listening to Twitter and offering to help. That unexpected surprise off-set the failings of some of their other channels which I think shows that Twitter is starting to become (at least in customers’ eyes) a viable service channel, however, I doubt this honeymoon period will last. Soon customers will expect organisations to adopt service channels that met their needs, whether that is Twitter or whatever social platform comes next.

Solid foundations

Perhaps above all, my experience with Virgin Media illustrates the importance of solid foundations for customer service. I admire Virgin Media for being an early adopter of Twitter for customer service, but, for me Twitter was a final resort, all other channels having failed.

Disclaimed and disclosure: I have never worked for or with Virgin Media. My only dealings with them have been as a customer.

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