This is a guest post by Jani Lilja from Cliente, a social media company with heavy CRM and Business Intelligence twist.
When Tom inquired if I´d like to come up with a guest post for his well entertaining blog, I think we discussed about Business Intelligence and how to put social vibe to it. Well, I was slow and Tom came up with his own text. Worth reading even though it is not written by me 😉
Next topic was CRM, again with the social spices, the topic I´ve been touching at times (only in Finnish though). I started to write about that, but got bored, cut all of the written text and decided to write a little story about the perfect world instead.
Before the perfection, may I introduce myself? My name is Jani Lilja, a 34-year old part-time entrepreneur with my social-everything related company, Cliente (web pages only in Finnish, sorry). Working background consists of Business Intelligence, Service Management, CRM and software development in every role you could imagine.
The little tale of being social
In the beginning there was this local clothing store for local people where the owner knew her customers, their families and their likings. For example Mrs. Robinson´s children loved all things shiny, so the storekeeper sometimes slipped a couple of free glittering hairpins to the shopping bag, and Mrs. Robinson was happy as the kids were happy.
Shopkeeper always had time for her customers, seemed to remember everything and knew how to serve them. She had this little thing called a CRM system, also known as a paper notebook, where she stored all kinds of information, and that along with her calendar she remembered always to congratulate the customers on their birthdays.
Time went by and the village grew and became a town. The number of customers grew, the store grew, services expanded and the number of employees grew, but the shopkeeper insisted on having close relationship with her customers – and this was also required from the employees. After having built a couple of new stores and started to sell stuff online, the owner knew they had to think of new ways to keep in touch with the customers.
As they had the online store, they had quite a lot of customer data stored somewhere in the databases. They also had all kinds of information in their old paper book CRM system and had quite a lot feedback from the customers via email and on paper notes from the shops. Valuable information scattered around places but no centralized way to examine and use it.
To get this information into use, they decided to get proper a CRM application, and integrated it to their online store and invoicing systems. Later on they also had information from their customer loyalty program and started to have a good view on the value and behavioral patterns of their customers by implementing reporting features to the system. But even though they knew the value of their customers, they didn´t know what the customers expected from them, what they were talking about them.
And so social media came to the picture. The owner was curious but didn´t want to rush in to anything, so they decided to find out whether people were talking about them or their products at all. An agency was hired, and after a month the agency came back with some suggestions how to proceed. They already knew who their customers were and now they also knew where the customers were doing their talking, so they started to follow those forums and eventually started also to discuss. Discussions were about their products, their services, potential products and services, customers´ opinions about the world, basically all kinds of things you can discuss or crowdsource. After getting positive results they expanded their repertoire and communicated with the customers using popular tools like Twitter and Facebook. During the process they also happened to discuss with Mrs. Robinson´s daughter who still remembered those hairpins.
Discussions happened outside of their systems, so they decided to socialize their CRM systems. As a result they managed to do most of the customer communication using their CRM system which was integrated to the social channels. The tricky part was to get every employee to understand the importance of being social, but as part of the decision to coach their employees to understand the new era of communication, they decided to implement a kind of Facebook-like intranet which brought working with the new social ways closer to all employees.
Not only did they gain a sort of full view on their customers, but they also managed to bring internal communication to a whole new level, and the employees got their voices heard. Employees got a channel where they could internally discuss their products, what kinds of customers they´ve been in touch with and what they could do to improve their offerings.
On technical level this is all achievable. You can access your customer information anywhere, analyze it to the bits and communicate with your customers, vendors and employees whenever needed and wherever needed. Outside the machines lies the problem, warns Yoda.
You can do the same but hear me first
They needed to move forward with the world and growing customer masses, so they started doing CRM, they used discussion forums and other social channels, added Social CRM to their CRM process, expanded it with Business Intelligence and even managed to socialize their internal way of working. It´s like doing Social Business, ´eh?
In an ideal world everything and everyone goes social like in the previous story, but in real life this might be a little bit more complicated, as you have people who are used to making a phone call when contacting other people and socializing with the friends means having a dinner or night out somewhere nice. Email has been The Channel via internet. All of a sudden they are forced to tweet, try to determine the meaning of YouTube video and get insulted by total strangers without faces.
From the business point of view the biggest challenges are not the technical ones as it has been already shown that everything can be integrated with anything. You can integrate your systems to social channels and get the all information written on the internet, but how to get your people involved and to understand all of this?
What is there to understand? What has happened is that almost everyone is now connected to each other via machines. One has a laptop, another one has an iPad or any other mobile device which is connected to the internet and to social networks all the time. Business itself is not changing that much, as someone is selling and the other one is buying, but the communication is changing, the way we are communicating with each other and with the ecosystem we are living in. Basically you could argue that we´ve been social forever as we´ve been talking with people face to face, but now the concept of ´social´ is moving to open discussions where one or many can participate in conversations, get opinions and to express themselves. This is the reality especially with the younger generations who have iPads for the 1st birthday and cell phone for the second. Nowadays people go to Facebook instead of using it (think about the difference).
How to move forward then? Starting inside is always a good way to start. Get your people involved in internal matters, give them a platform to express themselves, urge them to do that, reward them for being open and innovative. Show your own employees that their opinions are heard and respected by those above them, show them than you are responding to negatives with something other than the sound of silence. If you can show internally the power of a customer´s voice, you are one big step closer on moving your company to more open and more social, may I even say more customer-orientated territory?
All this may mean is rethinking of some processes, making them more outside-in where the process is designed to serve the customer instead of the people involved inside the company. This might also mean new marketing and PR-strategies. Heck, this might mean even more business when customers see that their opinions are valued and they have the possibility to create more value by partnering the company.
Whatever is your approach, starting inside the company or outside, move forward by taking baby steps. Do not try take on every social service, choose one or two and concentrate on those, and when the understanding is there, expand if needed. If the existing infrastructure supports integrations to the social layers, why not implement these to support the process, but might be wise to first concentrate on getting familiar with the whole concept before starting huge system projects.
As we have witnessed, everything is social, the present and the future, even the past. Now it´s up to us to surf on the same wave as our customers.