It's Time to Drop the "M" in CRM

Social customer relationship management is the evolution of CRM and Todd Clayton over at chatterboxhq had an interesting article which I had to respond to on Why Social CRM Is not the Answer for Social Media it’s a great read (go on read it, I’ll still be here when you get back). OK great, so we’re all caught up now. I wanted to take his last parting comment and develop that further. I do think it’s time corporations dropped the “M” in CRM. I know its semantics, but it’s important. Management implies control of an individual or situation. The truth is that with the open communication of the internet, companies have lost a lot of this control.

In the Beginning

Let us step back several years. The primary mediums to get information about the outside world were: Print, Radio, and TV/Film. Print has always been controlled by larger corporations and media outlets. There have been independent publishers but the mass of people they hit were small compared to the large media outlets, it also was typically expensive to run your own print format for any extended period of time.

Companies start to think “how do we respond to this?”

Radio, again regulated to a set of broadcasters for the most part, and radio’s reach was determined by their broadcast range; again local stations were usually owned by national stations and towed a larger corporate line. Radio would also sometimes syndicate some shows out over multiple cities. Any independent radio broadcasters were hobbyist usually and would broadcast over short frequency waves and hit a very limited audience. This is the same issue that independent printers ran into, limited audience.

TV/Film, also run by several large corporations, to broadcast on TV you had to be licensed and certified, to make a film you need the distribution power of the larger studios. To get on TV as a private individual you might be able to get onto a local city TV channel, but again you would run into production costs and your show would have a very short life span.

The nice thing about all this from a corporate stand point is that they could directly market in any one of these venues and it was a one way dialogue. Even better because each of these venues were controlled by a very small group of companies, you could also get product placement, and favorable reviews of your products through those outlets. Before the internet people didn’t know better, whether something was junk or not, they only had endorsements through traditional media to rely on, and if they were a lucky a neighbor or friend who had already bought that product.

The Evolution of Marketing

So then Marketing starts evolve and also send you junk mail, usually addressed to occupant or whatever name was in the phone book. Oh and because you’re in the phone book you might get phone calls too. So now companies are reach out to you as an individual in your home to create awareness of their products, which is great for a company, but then people start to complain about calls and junk mail, and companies hear this, and start to get savvy, and they put all your information in a database. They make a couple rules that you’re only to be phoned once a month so that the company doesn’t appear as annoying to you by calling every day at 6PM. They also start to ask you questions and develop profiles on you so you only get mail on products they think you may be interested in that they sell.

Now along comes the internet, and we have e-mail. “Great!” Says the company. They get your email address and now we have SPAM. Companies start to get more sophisticated because customers complain and the governments create privacy laws. A customer relationship has to now be managed. So here’s the problem, CRM folks seem to think this means that this is defined as growing their database of people to market to in a “one-to-one” manner. So they send you an email with your name in the subject line, and they are now “engaged” with you. Maybe some people email the company back when they get an email and maybe that company responds maybe they don’t, but nobody really knows because it’s all very nice and private.

A Rapid Evolution

Now something changes around 2005 blogs start to pop-up, the average person can now post whatever thought pops into their head and it will be live and on the internet in right away. Then we start to see MySpace and Facebook really take off, and people start to post conversations that are open to everyone, or just their friends, but those conversations live on past their initial life span. They’re out there and they are archived. Then Twitter comes up, now you have millions of people all making noise, all doing it very publicly and all doing it very chaotically. However sometimes the cry of one person catches the attention of another person and that message gets re-tweeted, and while that is happening someone posts a blog post, and somehow that story shows up on digg. All of a sudden this nobody’s message is all over the web. Maybe they’re complaining about the quality of service from a roofing company (I’ve had the similar issues with said roofer so they’re my example for now). All of a sudden the public has turned on this company they have a problem.

Companies start to think “how do we respond to this?”, so they go to PR, and PR sets out a press release. This turns out to not work very well (thin the Dell batteries bursting into flames). All of a sudden companies start to realize they need to talk to customers on forums so they create bots and spiders to look for mentions of their company and they respond on those forums. The problem is that companies are putting out the same thing they always did. In the last few months I think companies have gotten better at opening up to customers. They don’t hide behind a company line, but hire people to be put out there on the front line. This is risky for a company they are putting their brand in the hands of people who can and do talk directly to hundreds of people at a single time. Companies that have representatives on twitter not just posting offers but engaging with some personal antic dotes are now tied to the value of that persons following. I think of some message boards where you would see people who work for companies show up and actually engage with the people on those groups, and talk with them.

The people of those groups would get to know the person representing the company, and the best reps, were good at taking the feedback of people on those boards and coming back to show how their comments have been fixed. Sometimes they would even walk through the issues out there in public. The customer wasn’t be managed they were working collaboratively. A good customer is one that wants to work with you. Those are the best customers. People who are hacking your product to make it do more than it ever did before aren’t “damaging the brand” they’re enhancing the use of your product for more people. If 100 people would buy your product to do what you think it SHOULD do is great, but if 1000 people buy your product to do things they NEED it to do is even better. What SHOULD and what is NEEDED are 2 very different things. Someone may buy your product to be a door stop, someone else may buy it because it’s the best toaster ever invented. Two very different uses for the product but both equally useful to their respective owner. In today’s age a good company would work with door stop guy to promote that it’s not just a toaster it’s also a doorstop and a great one at that as well. The company doesn’t need to make it their marketing pitch but by collaborating with toaster man he can be the guy pitching the product to anyone looking for a doorstop. I guess what I’m trying to get at is it seems that companies are looking at ways to use social media manage situations and issues. They HAVE to manage situations and issues because they were not engaged in the discussion BEFORE it became an issue.

You Can’t Manage the Mob, But You Can Work with Them

Companies can be present on all sites at once I know, but what they can be are thought leaders. Companies have the ability to unite people together who enjoy like products or services. Companies don’t have to be looking at managing problems, but tapping into their fan base. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything
is a great book that gets into this deeper, but at this point I don’t think companies should expect to be able to “manage” their customers. The masses no longer have to listen to one small set of voices, because anybody can have a voice now no matter how small. We’ve grown up, we’re more sophisticated, and most importantly when we want to talk about your product we can now do it in a very open and public form that doesn’t quickly forget. It’s called the internet, and it’s not all going to be on your website. We also know when we’re being fed a line. We’ll have the conversations with or without you. We may even disagree with what you have to say sometimes, which is OK, it’s not personal. We can’t be managed anymore but we’re willing to work it out with you. We’d like to see you make the products we like better, and we’d like to be involved in what you make next. We care about what you have to say, that’s why we’re talking about you, but you can’t just tell us what we need anymore. Why not try collaborating with us instead? It’s time to move from CRM and into CC (customer collaboration).


  1. […] social tools (think FaceBook, Twitter and LinkedIn). I
    recently wrote about my own reasoning on why SCRM shouldn’t be
    called SCRM and that corporations can’t “manage” customers or
    expect to manage customers in […]

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