Social CRM Moves Focus from 'Management' to 'Relationship'

Ann All
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Justice Potter Stewart uttered one of the most famous phrases in Supreme Court history during a case in which he had to consider whether a 1958 French film called "The Lovers" could be considered pornographic. He could perhaps never succeed in intelligibly defining pornography, Stewart said, but "I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that."


Many of us share Potter's subjective view when confronted by something that's simpler to define by what it isn't than what it is. Defining social CRM (SCRM), for example, seems easiest when explaining how it differs from more traditional CRM.


When I interviewed CRM Essentials Co-founder and Partner Brent Leary in 2009, he told me social CRM was about companies creating benefits for consumers, not for themselves. He said:

When you think of traditional CRM, most of the benefits are felt internally. You get more operational effectiveness, better forecasting, an improved ability to share information with people on your team. But social CRM is totally focused on the wants and needs of the customer.

That meshes nicely with thoughts shared by Bertrand Duperrin on his Bertrand Duperrin's Notepad blog. As Duperrin rightly points out, there is no single SCRM model but an SCRM concept that must be adapted for each organization. I think that's a big part of the problem many folks have with such seemingly nebulous ideas as SCRM. Most organizations like standards, processes that are easy to duplicate and predictable outcomes, all of which are notably lacking in SCRM. Heck, as we've already established, people can't even agree on what it is.


Many SCRM discussions (including my conversation with Leary) focus on social channels like Facebook and Twitter because most folks can agree that using them to communicate with customers is a SCRM best practice. That's not the case, though, when such channels are simply used to replicate old behaviors, Duperrin points out. The example he offers is using Twitter or Facebook to make the same offers previously conveyed via e-mail. He writes:

At best it's social marketing, at worse it's spam and, even more, it gets on people's nerves because they are bombed with useless information while they get no answer when they try to use the same channel to talk to the enterprise. (Yes it's a two-ways channel, contrary to e-mail that always mention "do not reply" strange way to envision customer relationship isn't it?)

Duperrin does hit on one important aspect of SCRM: the two-way nature of customer communications, whether or not they occur in social channels. In fact, he opines, SCRM can happen over the phone or in person, in any interaction where customers are treated as stakeholders.


In perhaps the best definition of SCRM I've seen yet, Duperrin says SCRM shifts the focus from the "management" aspect of CRM to the "relationship" aspect.


Selling a product or service is still the primary focus of the relationship, but instead of defining its products and services internally and pushing them to the market, organizations are increasingly taking customer feedback into account. Selling the product is less about making pitches than about having conversations. As Duperrin writes, it's "moving from 'buy my product, it's the best' to 'How can I help you.'" And follow-up gets more emphasis in SCRM, sometimes with a dedicated customer care channel on social media or a "peer care" platform where customers can help each other.


Duperrin lists two aspects he thinks should be found in even a "minimalist" SCRM program:

  • Segmentation of the audience, with content and delivery of messages tailored to each segment, and even specific services for each segment.
  • A customer case management system that ensures customer communications are routed to the appropriate person/people in the organization and sent back to the customer, "without any break in the flow." Oh yeah, and this should be channel-neutral.


Improving customer service was one of the use cases for case management mentioned by Forrester Research analyst Craig LeClair when I interviewed him and Forrester colleague Connie Moore. Not coincidentally, LeClair tied case management to personalization and multichannel customer experience. He said:

We're moving toward differentiation based more on personality and experience and away from commoditization of core services. The top companies are going to focus on a case where you can personalize experiences and understand the multi-channel experience of where a customer is.

Like SCRM, case management isn't exactly a concept that's easy to understand or explain. Also like SCRM, it's a framework that won't be contained in a single software application. LeClair said it includes elements of business process management, enterprise content management, analytics and social technologies.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Mar 22, 2011 1:13 PM Hilary Oles Hilary Oles  says:

I am a student studying Retail Management with @dr4ward #mkt4760 and I think that you make a great point on how SCRM is shifting. I agree that businesses are taking more consideration to customer feedback and Twitter and Facebook seem to be an easy way for the customer to interact with a business. I think that Facebook and Twitter allows a business to better manage and follow customers and their needs with a customer care channel that was not previously easily accessible. 


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