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Social CRM as the excuse to avoid the hard stuff.

by Michael Maoz  |  August 31, 2010  |  7 Comments

The United States is celebrating Labor Day next week.  I guarantee you that not 1 percent of Americans know why there is a Labor Day beyond the last chance of the summer to have a barbecue. It is a day meant to pacify/mollify US workers after a dozen Union members were shot dead by the US Army in the 1880’s for protesting declining wages and work conditions in the railroad industry.  Declaring Labor Day was a way of recognizing respect for labor rather than a focus on profit or management. Now you know.

But what about the conditions for workers in the Customer Service profession? A lot of their job is getting harder, but soon it could become more exciting and challenging. Right now the customer service rep is suffering from a lack of good tools in hand to sound and act more informed and more empowered. Trust me: they don’t enjoy knowing less than the customer. Their esteem drops when the customer has broader access to information than do they. They are frustrated that the right information is not at their fingertips, or that they do not have the authority to take/make a decision.

What about the multiple types of applications available to help customer service reps identify the right piece of knowledge, or navigate the process, or suggest the right path? Why are these not deployed? Much of the reason is that upper management is too far removed from the customer service function. They are also not directly accountable for improvement. How do I know? I speak to these folks. The ones who are measured by improvement to the customer experience are all the same: committed, excited, knowledgeable, and taking the steps to empower agents. The others? They show me their Social Media, Listening, “Community analysis,” and “Feedback.” La la la.

Some few leaders understand where social and traditional Customer Service are coming together – and I’ll get to the revolution in Contact Center powered by Community in an upcoming blog- it’s really exciting. But for now: take a look at the tools you’ve given the service agent, and then look at the keys to an excellent customer experience with that agent, and see if you have the right combination. And who is validating that – YOU? Or the end customer? Or both?

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Category: crm  customer-centric-web  innovation-and-customer-experience  leadership  social-crm  social-networking  social-software  strategic-planning  

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 Social CRM as the excuse to avoid the hard stuff.

  1. Doug Hadden says:


    I think that you’re missing the point. (Not about labour day, though – nice seque).Customer support technology suffers from an over-reliance on left brain business process concepts. The notion that customer support can be broken down to a scientific process of question/answer and data look-up.

    That’s not so say that the process of customer support cannot be made more effective through these traditional tools. We wouldn’t be using them if they didn’t work.

    However, customer engagement needs to extend beyond the semi-automated touch points. Organizations need to leverage these opportunities to improve products and services, This requires more context, more open-ended conversations. Hence, the need for more social interaction. To augment the existing tools. (Yes, social CRM doesn’t help when you don’t have CRM.)

    The very best CSRs are able to achieve a deeper understanding of customer problems and needs. Social CRM gives companies that potential to augment CSR skills.

    Most support CRM applications are used exclusively by support personnel for support reasons. But, companies have far more internal skills. Product managers, professional service personnel, accountants or pre-sales staff often need to be engaged behind or outside the CRM application. Not so with social CRM where company experts and stakeholder (dare I say, “executives”) can interact with customers. Sure, there is nothing that prevents executives from interacting with traditional CRM support software. I do, but I have to hunt to find things that I can do or it has to be explicitly assigned. Yet, our social CRM applications enable me to add value based on subject matter.

  2. I’ve found it instructive to map out where customers actually touch the organization to get problems solved and questions answered. It’s not unusual to see things like (a) a large proportion of customer contact occurs outside the contact center and (b) a large proportion of staff actually dealing with customers don’t have access to an “official” CRM or sCRM system. Plus, whether we adopt social or traditional methods in customer support, customers will come through whatever portal exists if they think they can get a response.

    Dennis McDonald
    Alexandria Virginia

  3. vikas nehru says:

    You are right, Michael.

    the buzz around Social CRM today is similar to email (overall eService) about 8-9 years back. Back then – Customers, by choice, started using email. Companies, given no choice, had to respond. The early implementations of eService perpetuated silos – not just in the communication channel itself – but across the board: separate LOBs were set up to handle eChannels; soon they discovered that agents needed different skills to be effective via email compared to the phone, processes that worked over the phone didn’t translate to email, etc, etc. Over time though, eChannels matured and today they are an integral part of the overall contact center strategy. Social CRM is going thru similar ‘growing pains’ – creating yet another silo, agents need new skills and there is no clear ‘owner’ of social CRM within the enterprise. Having said that, there is no doubt that social CRM is useful, here to stay and in due time it will reach maturity.

    but the fact remains, that dabbling with social CRM is no excuse for not getting the basic call center right. As a customer, If I call an agent – I should get the right answer, efficiently. If I don’t, then I really don’t care whether the company has a blog/wiki/community/facebook page/the next fad/etc. I do think that the buzz around social CRM is causing the support/marketing executives to ignore the basics. Social CRM is not the panacea – it is not an alternative strategy to fixing basic support issues.

    This is a generalization – but unfortunately, today’s customer service processes are brittle, inflexible and one-size-fits all and as a result are hindering the delivery of accurate, personalized, and consistent service experiences. Enterprises cannot control their interactions with customers to achieve any reasonable outcome. Customers are frustrated by the time it takes to resolve issues, the different and often times wrong answers they get when they contact a company multiple times, and the lack of individual treatment. Agent turnover is high as a result of frustration with their inability to help customers in a satisfactory way. Managers cannot achieve either customer satisfaction or improved agent performance and retention.

    The result has been a disaster for customer service: rising costs, declining satisfaction, and fundamental service sub-optimization. Unlike other, simpler enterprise processes that have achieved massive productivity gains from automation and analytics, customer service continues to drain the bottom line and resist modernization.

    bottom line: get the basics right first. Don’t forget the agents working hard every day to keep your customers happy – give them the tools they need to succeed.

  4. […] they still need solid core CRM application (so the Walkman metaphor only goes so far). Michael Maoz wrote a post that is in a similar vein as the Wired article, or maybe I am seeing something that is not there.  […]

  5. […] they still need solid core CRM application (so the Walkman metaphor only goes so far). Michael Maoz wrote a post that is in a similar vein as the Wired article, or maybe I am seeing something that is not there. […]

  6. Michael Maoz says:

    You’d find us in violent agreement. The issue for a lot of organizations is breaking out of this myopic obsession in the customer service center on efficiency metrics. It’s been over 25 years now that the systems for measuring CSRs have been almost set in stone, and CFOs and CIOs alike are reluctant to change the processes. They override the service managers.

    On the other hand, there are hundreds of business-to-business tech support centers that have smoothly embraced the ‘social’ and ‘community’ concepts. I see the bigger challenge in the business-to-consumer, high volume centers that are truly struggling, even though they know they want to do things differently.

    Good post – and thanks for reading.

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