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Why your Twitter and Social CRM efforts will fail

by Michael Maoz  |  May 7, 2009  |  18 Comments

I began writing research about collaboration and social networking with a piece about Mercury Interactive’s use of social networking to drive down support costs and improve brand and reputation. That was seven years ago, and I had a single call from a business about the concept. Underwhelming response. They say timing is everything, but it isn’t everything: the rest is hype.  Right now the concepts of community, and Social CRM, and the Twitter-bug are high on the hype meter. On the one hand that makes me happy, because businesses are finally getting back to the reality that eventually their customers will control a lot of the processes that impact their lives. But there is a flip side about this sudden desire to listen: we really don’t want to listen.

Listening is a skill. Good sales people listen extremely well. They are like wolves that analyze prey for the slightest weakness and then exploit it. I say this in the most positive of ways. If the rest of an organization could be as focused on uncovering what motivates a customer to act with the same degree of success that sales people do, more businesses would thrive. But what have we all done over the past 20 years? We’ve done our best to stop listening to the customer. We did it gradually and incessantly. First we reduced or eliminated physical locations where customers could see us and interact. But we gave them phone-based agents who were from somewhere in their own geography. Then we switched the local agents for agents from far away, with whom our customers had a harder time relating. And we layered on voice response systems so that they would not reach any human anywhere. Then this self service layer was extended to the internet. Our customers now find their own forms, search for their own answers and products, configure their own custom versions of their insurance or flight plans. And have few genuine opportunities to be heard.

Basically, we have stripped away as many opportunities to listen directly to the customer as possible – pushed them away from identifying with our businesses and value propositions. When customers want advice and want answers and want to vent – where do they go? To their peers. They Tweet. They post. They blog. They SMS. They post YouTube content about your horrendous service.

And then we wake up and say: ‘We should be listening to all of this chatter. We should participate, or analyze, or manage, or enable dialogue.’ It is a lit bit ironic that we focused intense effort on lowering costs through extreme self service, draining away our ability to listen, and now that we achieved what we set out to achieve we want to go back to the beginning and learn to listen. This is a great goal in two meanings: complex and positive.

Ah, but wait: are you going to go back and recalculate the true saving of outsourcing and all forms of self service to factor in the added costs of analytics, personnel to manage the listening, social software, and committees? The original cost-saving scenario will be tarnished, so my bet is you won’t do it. It is a fool’s errand.

If your new efforts at listening and gaining insight fail to cause you to rethink the effectiveness of your many interaction channels (not their efficiencies), it is unlikely you will find your listening skills, or bottom line, much improved. Social CRM is crucial – cross channels and across your business.

Category: crm  customer-centric-web  innovation-and-customer-experience  saas-and-cloud-computing  

Michael Maoz
VP Distinguished Analyst
13 years at Gartner
26 years IT industry

Michael Maoz is a research vice president and distinguished analyst in Gartner Research. His research focuses on CRM and customer-centric Web strategies. Mr. Maoz is the research leader for both the customer service and support strategies area and customer-centric Web… Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Why your Twitter and Social CRM efforts will fail

  1. Michael,

    I agree with your post at the core: most people suddenly woke up one morning and decided it was time to tweet or poke or whatever they heard about and they have moved into it with a vengeance — but with no plan.

    However, there is one part in your blog that could be different. When you say that organizations moved to strip all contact from their operations (web self-service, automation, etc.) you are leaving out the fact that they can – if they want to – integrate their self-service into their communities (as an example) – the Mercury case study you wrote talked about this, replacing knowledge-base with community knowledge. The step to change into a social enterprise is simple to plan, hard to implement. It can all be integrated (that was the idea behind EFM), but is hard to do.

    And we all know that the failure point to anything we implement in customer service is how hard it becomes.

    So, there is a likely scenario when someone will realize in the near term that their ROI won’t change for the worse, it will actually improve if they were to integrate it all into one solution. Just don’t hold your breath :)

    Nice post, well said.

  2. Michael Maoz says:

    Very good additional points – and I agree. A few, leading, type A businesses are trying for an EFM approach, but as you say, it’s tough to do.

  3. Michael,

    Great post. I guess the goal is to find the perfect balance between enabling and shortening the feedback loop with customers (and other stakeholders) and enabling that feedback to be not only gathered, but acted upon, and integrated into each company’s business model.

    Thanks for humor seasoned wisdom.


  4. Amir Dekel says:

    I agree with what you say in the post, however I believe that the problem is not with social media network but rather the infancy of “voice of the customer” programs. The transformation of the importance of the customer to the organization is at the point where companies who don’t listen well will start to lose market share to the ones who do.

    As you point out, Social CRM is crucial, but it’s just one channel in the vast array of ways that customers can tell you what they think. And since we’re at the top of the hype-meter, companies are still trying to figure out how to manage this new interaction channel that has been dumped in their laps (for free).

    Good post. I am sure it will generate more debate.

  5. […] it can grow on the outside. Companies need to be ready to listen, many are not and that is why they will fail miserably in social media. For some companies, it can be as simple as hiring a social media professional; for others it will […]

  6. Bill Odell says:

    Nice post Michael. And great comments as well.

    I agree there is a lot of hype with Social CRM and companies are more willing to spend time seriously evaluating how to best embrace the new demographics of their customers who are more likely to be on Twitter than speaking with their service agents. I think one of the learnings of how early solutions fell short might have been a lack of sensitivity to what Estaban mentions – a way to truly integrate collaboative technologies with existing business processes. Its just plain hard to do and when these processes are well established the inertia is a hurdle.

    As you know we have worked very hard at Helpstream in addressing this very problem and have built a our community-based customer service solution on top of a business process architecture. This is proving to be very valuable so far – cross your fingers – and our customers have found it easy to adopt. We have a post up on Helpstream’s blog about a recent study we did on the ROI of embracing community-based

    Thanks, Bill

  7. […] Why your Twitter and Social CRM efforts will fail – Basically, we have stripped away as many opportunities to listen directly to the customer as possible – pushed them away from identifying with our businesses and value propositions. When customers want advice and want answers and want to vent – where do they go? To their peers. They Tweet. They post. They blog. They SMS. They post YouTube content about your horrendous service. […]

  8. Andrew Frank says:

    Great post!

    The key concept that organizations must embrace is the reason why they do what it is that they do. IT is a tool to enable our business to get things done more efficiently and effectively. However, somewhere along the line, we have lost direct contact with the customers (internal and external) that we are supposed to be serving.

    Twitter, social networking, blogging, etc. are simply noisy, distracting tools, unless organizations are passionately committed to authentically join the conversation with the customer. What makes this model work is that money is no longer the motivating factor. Customers are savvy, and can see through any organization that is exploiting a new tactic for the sake of gaining market share.

    In short, there must be a return to simply knowing who it is that we serve, and then, actually serve them.

  9. […] This post was Twitted by HotBlogTips – […]

  10. Wei Xia says:

    I agree that the social CRM will fail if the company do not have a strategy to listen to its customer. However, I don’t quite agree that self service and call center are the reason that company don’t listen to customer. In last 10 years, many CRM inventions like online self service created a lot of values for companies and customers as well. I could check my account balance any where and any time, without having to waste my time and company’s time to talk a human being. If properly implemented, CRM could also allow a company to listen to customers, if they really want to. I agree that many social CRM efforts will fail, many CRM implementation failed any way. If a company don’t really value its customers, if the cost saving is the sole purpose of the project, then CRM efforts will fail, it does not matter it is social CRM or operational CRM.

  11. […] analyst Michael Maoz blogged yesterday Why your Twitter and Social CRM efforts will fail. It’s an insightful post and one that, by coincidence, shares a theme with something I posted […]

  12. Until companies have defined what true CRM is and how to implement and benefit from, it is highly likely that social CRM will fail. Further, the overflow of social sites and the sheer speed at which they rear their heads, will also dilute the value. Again, wrong implementation and high expections will for sure result in failure, why, simply because one size does not fit all. One success for a compan doesnt imply success for the rest. In conclusion, the lack of ownership and accountability of CRM systems accounts to 75% of failures.

  13. […] Michael Maoz writes about the skill of listening (to the Voice of the Customer). […]

  14. Sean Wilson says:

    Many social media marketing/CRM efforts will fail simply because those attempting to implement them have been fooled into thinking it’s a more complicated endeavor than it is. It gets exponentially easier the more effort a person/organization puts into simply acknowledging that it’s all relationships, and putting forth the effort to create and maintain good ones in the first place.

    It’s not hard to obfuscate oneself a niche (and, in fact, many seem to take a perverse pride in doing so) by making social media seem difficult to understand. You can have teams of community managers and hired gun PR specialists doing everything but wiping your nose for you and still fail. Why? Because if you cared in the first place, YOU would be the evangelist for your product, services, company, and efforts…YOU would be seeking out those conversations, finding the tools, and monitoring channels on your own initiative. It’s your business, to manage your business after all, isn’t it?

    The first threats to social media marketing/CRM failure arise because leadership is poor, ethics are lacking, someone mistakenly interpreted profit as being the business they were in–no culture was created within the organization that employees could and would believe in or feel good enough about that it would allow them to become natural evangelists for the products, services, company and leadership. And that poor situation means leadership isn’t doing it either, obviously.

    Then, you have HR departments who are clueless about what a good employee is (apparently, if they have a degree and passed the piss test, it’s enough…). Not that it matters all that much if you/the company are outsourcing customer service overseas to non-native speakers of your customer’s language–in order to cut costs–and using those voice-response phone systems which you yourself f-ing hate to encounter.

    Companies that embrace the living economy principles, accepting a “living return” in stead of a maximum return, need far less social media PR/CRM. A living return means that you might accept less profits, but pay your workers better wages and hire locally rather than outsourcing overseas–creating a better workplace, an employee stake in performance, and contributing to the economic health of the place in which you live. Many companies/individuals simply lack the spine and ethics to do that in this day and age.

    That’s sad, because that very sort of culture fosters natural brand evangelism in customers–internal and external–which makes social media work to your advantage as naturally as weeds growing in an abandoned lot. Good, ethical, responsible, caring business practices are fertile soil–social media is the sun, rain, and temperature. What grows are the seeds of happy customers into stories of success.

    When it’s all said and done, the Mom and Pop stores, the sole proprietors striving to know every customer and make them all happy…they instinctively do social media right. It’s called word of mouth and your business relationships. It’s not an afterthought that you try to mitigate and manage, it’s a mindset and culture you embrace.

    The bottom line is that if you’re running your business right and make your customers happy, you really wouldn’t need to WORRY about the conversations going on in forums, on blogs, or in Tweets. You KNOW they are all good, unless they come from competitors or non-customers unfamiliar with your brand. If you are running your business right, you KNOW your social media team will address them appropriately…and that team consists of your loyal, satisfied customers–whom you listen to all the time because it’s in your company’s culture/nature to do so.

    It’s incredibly easy to do right by customers. The bizarre fact that so many companies would rather create expenses avoiding doing so in the first place is why social media marketing/CRM offers any employment opportunity at all.

    And to those worrying about inbound/outbound channels, traffic online, the latest API, popular social networks, and attempting to deploy bleeding edge this and that…it’s not all that complicated. You need not use nor monitor every tool, just pick a couple versatile ones and USE them…with sincerity.

    A really good company would simply make a standing offer/reward to customers and have them monitor social media/conversations for the company–challenge them to find a negative conversation and report it. Then react swiftly, ethically, and resolve it. It’s not hypothetical BS that can’t be done…it’s that companies/leadership/people seem inclined to take the easy way out instead of doing the right thing. The “right” thing ought to be instinctive, but the mere fact that it’s not tells you precisely what we’re not teaching and advocating in homes, at high schools, in MBA programs and online…in social media.

    Business ethics classes these days are jokes, case studies in case studies and little more. In the workforce, no one has a stake in anything, it’s just a J-O-B; with a society where anything goes and no one respects anything, what’s to be expected? It’s precisely why we’re in the sorry economic situation we are today.

    Great article. I’m out of coffee…

  15. Rena says:

    Things will have to change and I think they are starting to. There are companies that are do a great job of listening through social media. A great example of this is Scott Monty of Ford Motors. He’s out there, listening to people and making a difference. Scotts efforts have improved customer satisfaction.

  16. Many good points here. Depending on the history of a company/organization, the adeptness and sophistication at which a company can operate social crm will vary. There are some other successful uses of social crm that come to mind: Comcast, Omniture, Ford above, is a great example.

    Understanding what tools are available and how to implement them, seems to me to be a tough issue for businesses to figure out right now.

  17. John Burton says:

    Hi Michael,

    I just wanted to let you know that referenced this article of yours in a blog post on TheSocialCustomer where I question whether Twitter is a serious business tool, or just a the latest silly toy for CRM professionals.

    I just re-read your article and I must say I loved it as much the second time around as I did when I first read it months ago. I know that the messaging around this topic has changed and softened a bit, but I still adamantly agree with your original position that it is ironic companies are spending so much money and effort to get close to customers, after spending considerable money and effort to offload those same customers out of the contact center and over to Web self service and online communities 😉

    Best regards,

  18. @sean wilson – I agree that the key to making this whole social media marketing work is true interaction. The reason that social is popular is people don’t like to be sold, and they want a break from the constant ads and marketing they see everywhere.

    To really succeed with these social tools you need to use them as a communication tool, and be ready to take on the negative pub, as well as embrace the positive pub. People know that businesses aren’t perfect, and if you can use these tools to personalize your business, customers will respond accordingly.

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