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One Executive's Take on Social CRM

August 23, 2012

The customer care market is a critical element in the overall pursuit of revenue growth and profitability, but the dynamics and evolution that continue to drive this industry can be a challenge to master.

To get an idea of where the market is currently and where it’s headed, TMC’s Rich Tehrani spoke with Jan Ryan, cofounder and president of Social Dynamx.


When asked about the state of the social customer care market, Ryan not only highlighted the dramatic revolution over the last five years; she also pointed to the analogy of three waves: The Listening Wave, the Land Grab Wave and the Transformational Wave.

In looking into her “crystal ball,” Ryan believes the next wave will be The Data Wave as she is already seeing glimpses of it today. To meet this new opportunity, companies will need to create an environment of collaboration between marketing, customer care, operating and even IT. To implement a successful strategy, it has to be people, process and technology – in that order.

People need to understand their role in customer care, and the process sets the standard for sharing information. Once these elements are firmly in place, the company is ready for the technology. Social Dynamx helps in the process by offering purpose-built social customer care. In other words, the company started with the customer service team and developed the product from their day-to-day needs. 

As for the term, “Social CRM,” Ryan dislikes it first because it’s simply a name to make CRM sexy again, and second because the concept sells the overall CRM strategy for the organization short.

And if companies have avoided social customer care until now, Ryan believes they are at serious risk of losing customer confidence and market share to a more nimble and social competitor. Their entire conversation is provided below: 

> What is the state of the social customer care market?

Social strategy has dramatically evolved over the past five years. I prefer the analogy of three “waves.”

The Listening Wave: This is where we saw companies realizing social was not a fad; that it had staying power that would re-define how customers communicated – and customers communicated back – to brands. Marketing was no longer a one-way conversation and the marketing funnel was upended into a loop of continuous conversations that smart companies saw as an opportunity to make relationships more meaningful and had to be built upon. Here we saw brands monitoring for share of voice, brand mentions, macro-level trends and keywords. Social customer care was still in its infancy.

The Land Grab Wave: The data and insight gleaned from the Listening Wave provided tremendous customer insights that weren’t possible before, now available 24/7. The Voice of the Customer was evolving right under our noses and forward-leaning companies realized they could personalize and redefine how every department across the organization interacted with prospects and customers. The true value from listening and sharing this data started to breakdown departmental silos and redefined the role and importance of social in delivering a meaningful, consistent “customer experience.”

We began to see C-level buy-in from marketing, sales and customer experience managers. But it didn’t stop there. Customer care’s scope expanded as teams were tasked with remedying the customer experiences that drove churn, low NPS, and were being amplified on social channels.

We now saw customer care and customer service have a seat at the social strategy table. This wave changed everything.

The Transformational Wave: As social media adoption increased, so did the social noise companies had to deal with on a daily basis. We are living this Transformational Wave now because brands are realizing that successful social strategies are best executed when they’re part of the core business processes that marketing and customer care have been exacting for years. Brands are realizing that their success (and revenue growth) is rooted in integrating social technologies across all functions. It touches everyone – internally and externally. Marketing and Customer Care are the new corporate power couple responsible for building enduring customer relationships. They can do that through understanding and delivering a meaningful, consistent customer experience through platforms such as Social Dynamx.

Brands that continue to relegate social media as a “side-channel” or as a standalone customer service channel will miss the next big competitive differentiator.

> What do you think is the next wave to emerge?

 Looking into my crystal ball, I’d have to say a Data Wave seems likely. We’re already seeing glimpses of it today. By data, I mean taking the vast volume of social data your customers, prospects and competitors are talking about and extrapolating actionable trends that become inputs into transforming your business processes and future products and services. The companies that share this data across the organization and feed it in realtime to product and engineering teams will be able to adapt faster and really “wow” the customer like never before.

> How do companies need to adjust to meet this new opportunity?

As I alluded to earlier, it’s key for customer care, marketing, operations and even IT to work together to deliver the best outcomes for the customer.  The reason why CRM had a rough start 15 years ago was because companies refused to tear down their operational silos, share information. The belief was that “he or she who holds the most data and most applications wins.”  In actuality, CRM ended up having the biggest IT budget and the customer had nothing to show for it.

Today’s opportunity requires a very different approach. Our customers realized early on that to have success in social customer care, they first needed to strip out the technology discussion. That’s hard to admit as a lifelong software person, but until you have C-level buy-in and re-architect your company to embrace social and community discussions, you’re setting yourself up for a long, hard fight. It’s people, process and technology – and in that order. People need to understand their role in the customer experience and cultures need to support the right values that guide employees to make the right decisions and tradeoffs. Process is about “baking” into the company new ways of sharing information, collaborating on problems and ideas, measuring customer delight, and transparency. Once you’ve addressed these, then you’re ready for technology.  

 > How does your company help them?

Our mantra at Social Dynamx is “Purpose-built social customer care. At scale.” Purpose-built means that while many of the early social listening companies were build for marketing, we decided from day one that we’d start with the customer service team and develop the product from their day-to-day needs.

 That means role-based user access and permissions for agents, supervisors and managers – just like a call center. And we layer in a strong rules and matching technology layer that prioritizes the most critical posts while weeding out the non-essential or non-actionable posts.

When we show this to customer service or customer care teams, we literally get high-fives in the room because they feel like they’ve now been invited to the social party.

> What do you think of the term, social CRM?

Honestly, I really dislike it for two reasons.

First, if you agreed – like I do – that social is another channel for sales, service and marketing, then it is CRM. End of discussion. I think social CRM was invented for marketing purposes to make CRM sexy again. We had CRM, then on-demand CRM, the industry was looking for another “it” term so social CRM seemed to fit.

Secondly, I think social CRM sells a company’s overall CRM strategy short. If you have naysayers (and which company doesn’t) you run the risk of them saying, “I’ll fund CRM but won’t give a dime to social until I can see firm ROI numbers.”

> How long can companies get away with avoiding social customer care?

If a company has avoided it this long, I would say they’re really at risk of losing consumer confidence and ceding their position to a more nimble and social competitor. But I think some companies think they have to go all-in on social or not do it at all. My advice to them would be: consider baby steps. Put together a tiger team from a few different departments and evaluate where you could dip your toe into the water. The good news is we’ve found there are more than enough willing employees looking to jump into the social waters and help elevate a brand’s social inititatives.

> If you have a suggestion as it relates to serving customers better, what would it be?

Embrace negative feedback along with the positive. Studies show that even with product ratings, people are more likely to believe positive reviews when they are mixed in with negative ones. Don’t suppress discontent. Learn from it and be authentic. It’s how you’d want to be treated if you were a customer, right?


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Edited by Braden Becker

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