Social Customer / Social CRM / Social Business: snake oil or great medicine? (Part II)

In this (second) post I want to move on and tackle ‘social CRM’.  Before I do that I wish to recap my thinking on the ‘social customer’.

The Social Customer

In the first post in this ‘social’ series I shared my thinking on the ‘social customer’. In a nutshell, I was neither impressed by the ‘anatomy of a social customer’ nor by the ‘social customer manifesto’.  The ‘anatomy of a social customer’ left me thinking that the ‘social customer’ is like the unicorn – fantasy.  The ‘social customer manifesto’ occurs as both mistaken and unrealistic.

Most customers simply want stuff to work.  Most customers want to spend their valuable time on that which matters: self, family, friends, ‘life projects’.  Most customers don’t want to use social media to complain / get service – they want the service to work first time. Most customers don’t want to get into partnership with corporations.  Why?  Because we are interested in making ourselves better off not making corporations better off.  Apple has got rich by creating value for us – enriching our lives, not by engaging us in ‘social’. Finally, the whole social stuff showed up in my world as the kind of thing that life insurance sales folks do: scare the living so that they part with their money.  Unfair?  Perhaps.  Lets move onto to Social CRM.

Social CRM

What is this ‘beast called Social CRM’?  What does it look like?  How does it move etc?  On my travels the internet threw up the following definition by industry guru Paul Greenberg:

“Social CRM is a philosophy and a business strategy, supported by a technology platform, business rules, workflow, processes and social characteristics, designed to engage the customer in a collaborative conversation in order to provide mutually beneficial value in a trusted and transparent business environment. It’s the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation.”

What?  So let me get this right, Social CRM is:

  • a philosophy – “a way of thinking about the world, the universe, and about people”;
  • a business strategyWiseGeek states that “A business strategy typically is a document that clearly articulates the direction a business will pursue and the steps it will take to achieve its goals”;
  • a technology platform;
  • business rules;
  • workflow;
  • processes;
  • social characteristics – what are “social characteristics” exactly? I remember that when I worked at IDV the management had to make a big effort to suppress the social characteristic of (some) staff members getting drunk at lunchtime and not being fit for work for the rest of the day

OK, it is everything!  The whole point of a definition is that it draws a line so cuts off what is from what is not.  Can you make sense of it?  If you had to draw it, how would you draw it? Do you remember this post on good strategy, bad strategy (fluff)?  No, let me share RR’s quote with you again:

“The hallmark of true expertise and insight is making a complex subject understandable.  A hallmark of mediocrity and bad strategy is unnecessary complexity – a flurry of fluff masking an absence of substance.”

Maybe, I am being unfair, so let’s continue with Paul’s definition to see where else it leads.  Here is what else sticks out for me:

  • designed to engage customers in a collaborative conversation;
  • a trusted and transparent business environment; and
  • companies response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation.

Let’s take a look at these in turn.

Where are the collaborative conversations?  I remember reading that the vast majority of companies that have set up Facebook pages do not engage in conversation with their followers.  On the contrary these companies are using Facebook as a marketing billboard to ‘message’.  And the report suggested that most people who follow companies on social media are doing so for ‘special offers / deals / discounts / privileges’.  Furthermore, even the more advanced companies (and there are not many of them) which have social media centres are mainly focussing on reputation management.  Responding to issues that flare up and doing online PR without it looking like online PR.  Where are the collaborative conversations?  If I am ignorant then please illuminate me, share with me what you know and I do not know.Incidentally, I do know that some companies are using social tools to tap into the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ globally in order to solve specific business problems e.g. Netflix (and the algorithm) – I do not count this as ‘social CRM’.

Where are these trusted and transparent business environments?  Let me be specific and make this even simpler: “How many businesses do you know that operate in a transparent environment?  Can you even imagine what a ‘trusted and transparent environment’ looks like? How likely is that given that a large part of the ‘power of corporations and powerful individuals’ stems from deception – conscious or unconscious? Before you answer get present to what “transparent” is and the revolution it implies in the design, operation and management of organsiations.  Now I ask you: how seriously would you consider the following statement “Social CRM is the island where pigs fly”?  So why would you take this definition any more seriously. From a zen perspective, a key component of living effectively is to distinguish between ‘what is so’ and our ‘delusions about what is so’.  From this perspective, Paul Greenberg’s definition occurs, at best, an aspiration and at worst a fantasy.

In what sense does the customer really own the conversation?  It occurs to me that the customer may want to own the conversation and the reality is there is no conversation!  Really, where are the conversations?  Where is the unrelenting dialogue between the customers and the company?  I recently wrote a post about my shockingly bad Amazon experience, I have heard nothing back.  Not even an acknowledgement that I exist or that Amazon is open to a conversation.  A customer ‘owns the converstion’ to the extent of his ability others to join his cause.  I know that on review sites, like TripAdvisor, customers can have a huge impact simply through the aggregation of their reviews.  Does this constitute ‘ownership of the conversation’?

My take on ‘social CRM’

‘Social CRM’ is classic hyperbole rather like the wizard in the ‘Wizard of Oz’.  Like the wizard it looks interesting, impressive, sparkles and catches your attention.  And if you happen to look behind the curtain this is what you are likely to find:

‘Social CRM’ is a phrase cooked up by technology vendors to sell their latest wares.  What are these wares?  Mainly tools for listening into and reacting to what people are saying about stuff in their lives – including their experiences with companies (people, products, events, advertising;

Social CRM’ is being played for all its worth by consulting and marketing services companies.  Why?  To sell their ‘wares’ to the ‘gullible’, the ‘greedy’ and the ‘desperate’. There are no ready made, cookie cutter, formula’s for social success. And the last people I’d trust are people in consulting companies (who tend to be analytically adept and relationally suspect) and marketing companies (too obsessed with messaging and manipulating).

Some companies are doing interesting stuff like Dell, Starbucks – to engage their customers in sharing their ideas. Is this ‘social CRM’?  I thought it was the ancient practice of tapping your employee for ideas / suggestions for improvement. extended to include customers.

The promises of ‘Social CRM’ are exaggerated. The context that would give life to ‘social’ in its truest sense is simply not there.  First, most companies are not ‘social’ and they absolutely do not want to be ‘social’: transparency is death to the existing institutional models.  Just look at the News of the World hacking scandal – the government, the politicians, the police, the press supervisory body were all able to cover it up for a long time because of the lack of transparency.  Look at the way the business press reacted to Pizza Huts decision to be honest about its pizzas.  Why was this newsworthy?  Because dishonesty / deception is the taken for granted norm.  Second requires a shift from self to the other and from I to you and me, us.  And as such, humanity, generosity, helpfulness, kindness, sacrifice, contribution are key part of social.  This is completely at odds with the current business ecosystem which is centred around selfishness, greed, manipulation, extraction and control – in short, “inhumanity’.  If you doubt me then ask yourself why the Sainsbury story took such hold in the press. Or for that matter ask yourself why our insides warm up, we say “wow” and jump up and down when we hear tales of humanity in business and institutions?

Do you want to get free tickets to the Social Customer Conference, 29th March, London?

If you want to win one of the 3 free tickets then please read the following carefully:

What you need to enter the competition for the free tickets?  You need to send a tweet that conforms to the following specification:

“I’d like 2 attend The Social Customer 2012, London, 29 March #MzIq | {give a reason here}”

Who will choose the winners? Me.

How will I choose?  The three tweets that make the most contribution to me: put a smile on my face / make me laugh; and/or put something into the world eg. by contributing to – a social cause dear to my heart, I love children!

How to generate that elusive emotional connection between your brand and your customers: Sainsbury’s shows the way


This post is NOT for novices.  If you are novice then I suggest you not read any further as you will not get it and it will occur to you as ‘nonsense’ and a ‘waste of time’.  The exception is if you are a novice with an open mind – you see that makes you not a novice, but a master!  I know that it sounds ‘nonsense’ and ‘paradoxical’ – you are warned.

Failure is built into the existing dominant mindset

My blessing and my curse is that I am a constant outsider.  That is simply what goes with being born into one culture (and all that goes with it) and then growing up in a completely different one.  What has this got to do with business, with customers, customer relationships, CRM and customer loyalty?  Kind of everything.

I have been involved in the whole Customer dance since 1998 and the one consistent is an intuitive sense that the whole enterprise is founded on a context that ensures that the people and the companies that are doing all of this Customer stuff (to build customer loyalty and reap the benefits) will fail to cultivate that much desired customer loyalty.  How best to convey that?  Let me start with two quotes that kind of point towards what I am striving to make visible to you:

“We will win and you will lose. You cannot do anything about it, because your failure is an internal disease. Your companies are based on Tailor’s principles. Worse, your heads are Taylorized, too. You firmly believe that sound management means executives on one side and workers on the other, on one side men who think, and on the other side men who can only work.  For you, management is the art of smoothly transferring the executives’ ideas to the workers’ hands”  Konosuke Matsushita in 1989 (Founder of Panasonic)

“Before producing the products, we produce men” Toyota’s motto

If you still don’t get it then let me share with you what Gary Hamel (management guru) has to say.  In his latest book (What Matters Now) Gary points out that the single biggest reason most companies don’t adapt and innovate is that their leaders fail to write off their own depreciating personal intellectual capital.  What he is say takes us back to the first quote by Konosuke Matsushita and should also shed light on the second quote (above).

This is what it takes to cultivate loyalty – do you have what it takes?

It is quite possible that you think you get what I am pointing at.  That is the disease in which the whole Customer movement is mired and has been mired in since inception.  You get it intellectually – at best you understand it and this is what one of the wisest thinkers / philosophers on the human condition has to say on that:

“In life, understanding is the booby prize.”  Werner Erhard

You see the whole issue is that understanding through the mind is simply not enough!  So let’s move on to a zen story that gets to the heart of the matter that I am concerned with today.  I invite you to notice how you are impacted (or not) by it:

“A saintly woman was walking along the edge of the cliff.  Several hundred feet below her, she saw a dead mother lion, surrounded by crying cubs.  Without hesitation, she leaped off the cliff so that they would have something to eat.” 

Do you get it?  COMPASSION/LOVE is the context which gives rise to the kind of being and doing that co-creates the emotional bond between you and your fellow human beings.   Your customers are human beings – not wallets, even though you think and talk in terms of wallets and wallet share.

If you are novice, an intellectual, a ‘rational’ and quite possibly a Top then it is likely that I have pressed your buttons and that little voice inside your head is coming up with ‘nonsense’, ‘rubbish’, ‘liberal’, ‘no place for this stuff in business’…….  So let me share an interesting story with you about one of the UK’s biggest retailers.

The Sainsbury’s tiger bread story: why did this story touch our hearts and put the Sainsbury brand in the limelight?

3 year old Lily wrote to Sainsbury:

And here is the Sainsbury response:

Which brings me back to the central question:  why has Sainsbury’s reply to Lily and the positive response to the Facebook campaign (to change the name of tiger bread to giraffe bread) made such an impact on us?  Reading this article I am struck by the following comments made by various people:

“Steven Dodds, co-founder of {united}, called the tale “genius”, adding “it screams of spontaneous generosity and humanity.”

Dodds said: “Consumers want to be able to put their trust in brands and this random act of kindness, which has made a strong impression on people, embodies the importance of that brands connect with customers. With people wanting to build relationships with less obviously managed brands, Sainsbury’s hits the mark in showing its human side.”

Mark Dye, MD of White Label Media, commented: “The humour and warmth shown by a big brand like Sainsbury’s conveys it as a warm down to earth, friendly and approachable brand staffed by real people rather than the complex and often frustrating IVR systems most consumers are faced with nowadays.”

Max Thompson from Plug and Play explained that Sainsbury’s decision to rename the bread has reinforced that it cares about its customers and that it considers their opinions enough to cause a rebrand of a product.   “The impact it has had on the Sainsbury’s brand is that it has reinforced that it cares about it’s customers and that it considers their opinions enough to cause a rebrand of a product. An activity which would normally be exclusively an executive decision,””

Summing it up

The access to that emotional bond that touches our humanity and lifts the human spirit is LOVE borne out of COMPASSION.  There simply is no agreement for these words, these concepts, and so it is no surprise that Steven Dodds of United (above) replaces them with “spontaneous generosity and humanity”.  Just ask yourself what provides access to “spontaneous generosity and humanity”.  I assert that it is:

  • an enlightened individual (and organisation) which takes us back to Toyota’s motto“Before producing the products, we produce men”;
  • an enlightened organisation is simply an organisation where the people in it and the culture in which these people live is one that is in touch with the best of humanity – compassion, kindness, love.

Finally: a warning and an invitation

The trap is for you to read this, agree with it and understand it intellectually – nodding your head.  Why?  Because purely intellectual understanding is a dead end.  All that is is because of action.  Action is that which gives rise to the way that things are and the way that things are not.  So I leave you with some of the wisest words uttered for our age – the intellectual age:

“In life, understanding is the booby prize.”  Werner Erhard

Open you heart – all action that has ever made a difference in the world has come from the heart.  Jonathon Haidt refers to the ‘Heart’ as the ‘Elephant’ and the ‘Mind’ as the ‘Rider’.  The ‘Rider’ often thinks he is in charge the reality (as neuroscience amply demonstrates) is very different – it is the ‘Elephant’ (the limbic brain, the Heart) that determine pretty much everything that does and does not happen.  So once again, open your heart if you want to cultivate the customer loyalty that you are looking for.  And if you are not prepared to do that then recognise that you are on a fools errand: how many more $ millions are you going to spend to stay exactly where you are? 

I thank you for your listening and invite you to enter into a conversation with me.  I suspect that I have pressed at least one of your buttons!  Surely you must have something to say – surely you want to tell me that I have got it all wrong.  I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Does marketing deserve a seat at the Customer Experience and Customer Centricity tables?

I believe that the marketing function has a valuable role to play in customer experience and customer-centricity

In the Customer Experience and Customer Centricity communities I have noticed a certain dismissive attitude towards the role and contribution that the marketing (and advertising)  folks can and do make.  To some extent this is not a surprise as some of the most visible proponents of Customer Experience come from a customer services background. Others who share this dismissive attitude tend to come from an operational improvement background and are deeply embedded in process thinking – the engineering mindset.

Whilst I can see the shortcomings, I can also see the value of the marketing function and the contribution it can, does and needs to make: to the customer centric orientation and to the customer experience in particular.   Recently I made my point of view clear on a Linkedin conversation:

“The companies that have marginalized the marketing function are making a big mistake. In my experience, the folks working in the marketing and advertising arena are one of the few tribes that truly get the emotional nature of human beings. The best marketers get the impact of standing for something that resonates with human beings. They get the importance of symbols and how these move human beings. And they get the importance of beauty. They know how to touch upon the emotional, engage and move human beings. Customer Experience requires the harmonious integration between the rational and the emotional.”

There are plenty of people who disagree with my point of view

I was not at all surprised that my comment on Linkedin resulted in the following response – a response that I believe is representative of many working in the CE and customer-centric communities:

“Regarding marketing losing its place at the table in customer-centric companies, had marketing exhibited the skills and behaviors you describe often enough, marketing still would be at the table. However, as an overall profession, marketing is far better at promoting to people than communicating with them. “Understanding” customers isn’t sufficient. In customer-centricity, companies have to see through customer eyes, rather than understand how to look at customers.”

Does this response raise a valid issue?  Absolutely.  Is it an accurate description of marketing?  Let me share an example with you and then you can decide for yourself.

Lets examine the issue through a concrete example: my wife and Tesco

My wife used to shop regularly and almost exclusively at Tesco (the biggest supermarket chain in the UK) and made frequent use of their online shopping and home delivery service.

Over the last three months she has shopped less frequently, bought less and spent less with Tesco.  In part this is simply because she is travelling more and finds other supermarket chains (Sainsburys, Morrisons, Asda) more convenient.  It is partly because she is being more frugal.  And it is partly because she had a disappointing experience at a Tesco store: Why my wife will not be relying on Tesco….

On the 24th March 2011 my wife received the following email (I have extracted some information from this email to shorten its length) from the marketing team:
If you haven’t shopped online for weeks. 

Don’t worry.

All your favourites are still here.

So you can fill your basket in minutes.


£7.50 off
Start Shopping >> e
Dear Mrs Iqbal,  

We’ve noticed that you haven’t placed a grocery shop with us for a while, and we hope that we haven’t let you down.

Please don’t forget how easy and convenient it is to shop online.  All the purchases you’ve made online and in-store are still kept in ‘My Favourites’.

And because we’d really like to welcome you back, we’ll give you £7.50 off your next grocery order when you spend £75 or more.

eCoupon code:
Valid on deliveries up to and including 2nd April 2011.

So why not let us do your shopping for you again soon?

Best wishes,

Kendra Banks
Kendra Banks
Marketing Director


Double Clubcard points still on; Spend £1, Collect 2 points, Every 150 points = £1.50
Award Winning Service

What impact does this email have on you?  Does this piece of marketing produced by the marketing function improve or degrade your experience, your perception, your attitude towards Tesco?

How has my wife experienced this communication from the Tesco marketing team?

My wife is pleasantly surprised that Tesco noticed that she has shopped and spent less with Tesco. How is she left feeling towards Tesco as a result of this marketing communication?

She says “It makes me feel valued as a customer.  I matter to them and they want me back.  And Tesco is providing value to me as their customer by giving me £7.50 off my next order.  I know it is not a huge amount, yet it does matter that they are giving me this discount.”

What other impact has this email from the marketing function made on my wife?  She is left thinking that Tesco:

  • Is a professional company that is on top of things because they noticed a change in her shopping behaviour;
  • Is proactive because Tesco has taken the first step to recover / ignite the previous shopping behaviour; and
  • Tesco is simple (as in easy to do business with) and straight with its customers because the email is written in that way – no fluff, no gimmicks, no tricks.

You might say great, but has she actually made any behaviour changes?  The answer is yes – she is once again shopping and spending more with Tesco.  And all because of a single email from Tesco’s marketing team.

So what is the lesson?

Marketing matters, the marketing function matters because it touches the customer in so many ways.  And if your marketing function is not making the kind of impact that the Tesco marketing function is making then it is time to learn from Tesco (and others who practice good marketing).

Disclosure: I am a member of the Institute of Direct Marketing and thus possibly biassed!

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