Quick Update, United Responds – Still Does not Understand

Almost as soon as I clicked the button to publish my previous entry I received an email from United in regards to my tweets from yesterday (not of all of them were kind).

Here is the text of the email:

Dear Mr. Kolsky:

I’m sorry to learn that you were inconvenienced when your most recent flight resulted in a delay and misconnection.  This runs counter to our team efforts to run a great airline.  To assure you of our intentions to improve your next trip with us, I’m depositing one 500-mile upgrade into your Mileage Plus account.


<name withheld>

Manager Customer Solutions

Customer Relations

Ref #: <number withheld>

This message is intended only for the use of the Addressee and may contain information that is PRIVATE and CONFIDENTIAL. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any dissemination of this communication is strictly prohibited. If you have received this communication in error, please erase all copies of the message and its attachments and notify the sender immediately.  Thank you.

As our valued guest we would like to collect your valued feedback on today’s outreach.

Please click on the link below to access our short survey.

<link removed>

First of all, Kudos to United for listening via Twitter.  Really, major props on that, and on taking action and responding.  I think they are at least trying.

However, there are three things that are wrong here – from my perspective – as far as providing an experience:

  1. The offer to deposit an upgrade on my account as compensation.  As I said in my original post, I am not looking for compensation of any type.  I am looking for a change in the company.  I am not naive to think that my tweets and posts will make United change their culture and become a customer-driven company.  Far from it.  But instead of telling me you are trying to run a great airline, how about if you said “This runs counter to our team efforts to deliver great experiences for our customers”.  Honestly, you cannot do one without the other.  Work on delivering awesome experiences, run a great business as a result.
  2. There is no way for me to return to them with a comment or even a thank you.  This is not about getting a conversation going with customers, it is about doing something that the company thinks is what the customer wants without asking, or allowing for exchange.  What if I prefer that they take the cost of this and donate it to charity? or a local food bank? or just wanted to say “thank you, awesome job”.  The arrogant assumption that because they did something the case is closed is very, very wrong.  Unfortunately, this is what happens in most organizations today.  The proper way to solve this issue would have been to say “What can we do for you? What can we do better?”.  Engagement means to listen as well as you speak.
  3. At the end of the email there is a sentence “As our valued guest (…)” that makes be believe this is not an offer of peace, just a token to shut me up.  Am I a valued customer? To whom? To the three employees who were not being helpful yesterday? To the one who wanted to blame the problems in someone outside of the company? To the person who sent me the email without a way to continue the conversation?  I don’t think I am very valued.  As a matter of fact, it sounds phony and dishonest to me.  Alas, this is predominant in corporate communications these days – let’s call them associates instead of employees, or we call them valued guests instead of customers.  Honestly, I would prefer to be employed by an organization that shared my values and principles than be an associate to someone who is clueless.  I would prefer to be a happy customer than an unhappy “Valued guest”.  Honesty marries intentions with delivery, not intentions with words.

I would have preferred to have someone from United contact me and ask me for my input on how to make that experience better, how to improve the process, what to do about this experience not happening again — to anyone!  What’s that? If they do it for me they have to do it for all their customers? Sure, they do.

That way they will ensure to have lots of customers to take care of, as opposed to one less customer who won’t get to enjoy that free upgrade.

How United Broke My Experience

This a tale of six airports, 16 hours, and one long failed experience.

It has two parts, first the story and then the lessons learned from it.  Critical learning: experiences are not about technology, are about people. Read on.

Disclosure: I hate all airlines equally, and don’t expect to ever be paid by any of them for anything. Quite the contrary, I expect to continue to pay for bad service, horrible attitudes, and to serve as a cathartic release for the stress it causes their employees to work for an airline. And, I expect to do this for the rest of my life as neither my lottery numbers are ever coming up, nor am I going to buy a private plane anytime soon. The purpose of this is not to chastise anyone or say, “you owe me a million miles or $10,000.00 for what you did to me”. I am using a life experience as a lesson in building better experiences.

Morning started bright and early trying to leave Colorado Springs at 930 AM and make it home by 100 PM. I had a lunch appointment I wanted to keep. It was snowing, but just slightly and then it stopped, the forecast was decent through 400 PM or so. I thought I needed to get out of there before the storm really hit, and was happy to be in the first flight out of there in the AM.

Turns out the plane that would take me to Denver came from Denver (did I mention it is only 69 miles, I wanted to rent a car and was told that it was not a good idea).  It had been delayed at Denver in a very complicated maneuver called de-icing, which apparently folks in Denver don’t do very often; it took them 2 hours to do. I can understand if that happens in, say, Hawaii, or Los Angeles, or Orlando – but Denver? Turns out that even though they had the warning about the storm, the airport decided to have fewer-than-necessary de-icing trucks. No, I don’t know why – they just did.

I missed my connection – by 30 seconds (yes, this involved a very long, hurtful marathon-like distance run through the airport in my overweight, out-of-shape state). As I got to the door United Employee#1 was just about to close the door and the following dialog ensued:

UE#1: You missed your flight
EK: but it was United’s delay due to de-icing, can I just get in?
UE#1: don’t care whose fault it was, you missed your flight
EK: can you help me re-book?
UE#1: no, you have to go to the customer service center (about half way down the way I had just come)
EK: I just run all the way across the terminal, and I’d appreciate if you could help me.
UE#1: not my job

If you notice any empathy, “I’m sorry”, or “let me help you valuable customer” you probably were not there.

I walked to the customer service center – which was closed (on a stormy day? Yeah, I can see the logic there).  I walked to the next one, which was open – and crowded like you would not believe (unless you fly often, in which case you know what I am talking about).

What’s that? Premier Executive line? Closed, of course.

Having flown long enough I know that sometimes is faster to call reservations. I did, and a very pleasant voice told me three times it did not understand the number I spoke as my frequent flier number before disconnecting. At least I know why he hanged up: because a robot does not understand how frustrating it is to us humans to deal with them.

I called again, pressed zero about – don’t know, 30? 40? – times and finally was told I was being connected to an operator.  Or so I thought… the average wait time was 25 minutes, but they appreciated me waiting… and waiting… and waiting. While waiting, I was moving up the line and after only 20 minutes in line I got to talk to United Employees #2 and #3:

EK: I missed my connection due to airline problem and need to get home. I know there is a storm coming around 4-5, so I’d like to get out of here before then if I could. I’d appreciate your help, as the other employee I just talked to was quite rude.
UE#2: yeah, those people at Skywest (United’s partner, commuter airline that brought me over to Denver and was nothing but nice and very informative) are like that.
EK: it was an employee from your airline
UE#2: well, it happens… so what do you want to do now?
EK: go home to Reno
UE#2: yeah, I see you are re-booked on a flight leaving tonight at 630 already
EK: can you re-route me through San Francisco? I’d like to get out of here before the storm hits if possible
UE#3 (another one, chiming in without being asked): you can only do that for the last flight of the day
EK: I am a Exclusive Level Loyal Customer
UE#2: it does not matter who you are, policies are the same for all
EK: can you re-route me to Sacramento, I will drive from there, I know you won’t pay for the car – but could you please check?
UE#2: there is flight living here at 300 PM, getting there at 430 PM.
EK: Perfect, can I get in on that one?
UE#2: with the change fee the new fare is $467.20 (or something like that).
EK: excuse me?
UE#2: you are changing your destination city, we have to charge you the new fare
EK: but it was your fault I missed my connection, and did I mention I am an Premier Executive? I usually don’t get charged for that small change due to weather or airline problem.
UE#2: if you want to change it, you have to pay. Do you want it?

So, I picked up my tickets and went along to call my travel agent. She suggested we check other airlines, and the only one that left before 5 PM was Southwest Airlines.  Southwest is better, I know I am going to make it home by 6 PM with a layover. Right?

The first flight I was booked gets delayed, and I will miss my connection, but if I go through Salt Lake I can catch a connection to Reno and get home just an hour later than before. Fine, let’s do it. I get on the plane, we get going, and — we need to de-ice. Should only be 30 minutes or so. Apparently “or so” in Denver-speak means 90 minutes. Forget the connection to Reno, how do I get home? Southwest changes me from Salt Lake, then going to Phoenix, then to Los Angeles, then finally to Reno. They say I will make it, have a tight connection in Phoenix but I can make it. No problem.

(side note: ever seen the movie Forget Paris with Billy Crystal? He spends the whole movie saying “never say piece of cake, it just jinxes things”. For airlines the phrase that does that is “no problem” – trust me on this).

No problem turns into un-describable problem (still don’t know what happened there), and we are delayed some 40 minutes (which was exactly my connection time) leaving, plus another 10 or so landing and leaving the plane.  Apparently there were more than one person (me) going to Reno from that flight because the flight attendant got on the PA and said “If you are going to Reno, please run to gate D1 as we are holding the plane for you – please don’t stop for anything – just go there”.

I am certain that is not true, so I asked her “Are you sure that is happening? We are coming almost 20 minutes after the plane is supposed to have taken off, did you ask ground operations?” She said “no, we did not ask – but this is the way Southwest works – I know”.
Plane lands, and I am off to the races (sorry, plane lands in gate B12 – about 50 miles away from D1). Run, cough up some lung, run some more, stop to pant, decide that I’d rather die right there, start walking, slow down the walk… made it to D1.

There is no sign that says Reno, or boarding, or anything like it – so I just go to the front of the line and ask the airport personnel (do they have a title?) “Excuse me, I just got off a plane, am supposed to catch a connection to Reno and the flight attendant in my flight say you were holding the plane for me – can I get in?”.  Imagine my shock when she said “Oh, honey – we were never holding that plane. You have to take the next one – but that one is delayed until 710 PM (it was like 5-ish)”.

I check in – and I must point out that through all this re-rerouting I was not asked to pay for anything – they listen to my story and feel sorry for me and give me a coupon for a free drink.

As the poet once said “every airline screw up is an opportunity for a blog post on lessons learned”. Actually, it was not the poet it was @elliotross –who also encouraged me to write this 2000 words essay – well, he just wanted the lessons but I am not that cheap and easy to prostitute my writing “skillz” (five lessons learned and micro-blogged via twitter are at the end, btw).

Here is the second part of this, how United broke my experience (note: even though there were problems with Southwest, they did try their best to make it better as time went by – problems will happen, how you tackle them defines the experience).

An experience is not a single event, is a continuum of interactions.  An experience for this trip would not be defined, for example, as boarding the plane but rather the entire trip.  Throughout the end-to-end process of booking the flight through arriving at my destination there are several interactions – and each one of those (we call them Moments of Truth or MOT) define a part of the experience.  One bad MOT can ruin an entire experience in the same way as a bad apple can ruin an entire barrel.  The attention to these MOTs is what distinguishes organizations committed to providing experiences for their customers from those that are not.

The critical aspect of MOTs is that they are not always surrounded or related to technology.  Talking to an employee, asking for an exception to the rules, trying to go above and beyond what is expected are outstanding MOT behaviors that will even cancel out other negative behaviors that may have happened along the way.  Southwest offering me a free drink to compensate the wrong advice given to me by the flight attendant is an example of this.  Did I write in the title how Southwest broke my experience – or United?  Making that extra effort for the customer is what defines a culture of being committed to an experience versus one that is not.

Experiences are critical to develop long-term emotional loyalty, and people are the ones that make the experiences happen.  You will get a far greater return on your investment if you invest in building a culture of providing awesome experiences for your customers than if you buy the latest and greatest technology.  Empowering your employees, making experiences part of your values, and training and fostering the culture of customer experience is something that you have to do to embrace experiences.

Technology, that is the easy part.  Make the decision to focus on the experiences, not the technologies, and in building a culture of providing awesome experiences.  You will see better results that you can by simply implementing technology.

OK, Since I promised I would – here are the five lessons learned yesterday while travelling that were micro-blogged via Twitter as time went by (should I say cross-posted?)

  1. When a Customer is upset, no mater whose fault it is or what happened, it’s not the time to say “it is not my problem”.
  2. When you build a loyalty program, mean it. Treat your customers in it as loyal, because they think they are being loyal to you.
  3. Make your partners an extension of your organization. They are working with your customers for you.
  4. If you don’t know what the answer is, don’t make it up and promise it is true. Say I don’t know and I will find out for you. Then do.
  5. Sometimes all goes bonkers around you and it is not your fault. But they are still your customers.

Update (10/29/2009 – 13:20 PDT): United responded to me, I responded to them.

What if RightNow Was Just One of Us? (and Why That is Good)

I came back last night from the RightNow Technologies User Group meeting (you will see another blog today about my “experience” getting here).

It was a great experience; it corroborated what I’ve been thinking lately:  SCRM is not at the 101 (introductory) level as we all thought, it is actually at the remedial level.

We really, really don’t know what we are doing – but we are trying to figure it out.

Meeting with RightNow customers’ (lots of them) during the sessions, meals, and networking opportunities gave me the chance to talk to  folks that are actually doing SCRM right now.  I got to hear what their problems were, what their approach was, what they were working on, what tools they used and what solutions they had implemented.

I also heard about their results.  What they tried that worked and did not work.  It was great to talk to others about SCRM.  Some of RightNow’s customers have built communities of millions.  Some of them are processing more email, chat, and twitter transactions than “leaders” in the SCRM tales; their results range from acceptable to very good by their own admission.

Riding on these tales is RightNow Technologies, who has a reputation for listening to their customers and building the solutions they want.  They had great successes, and some not so great along the way.  Alas, whatever they built was what their customers wanted and needed, and they did it in the best way possible: feeling their way around, putting potential solutions out for consideration, and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

I saw and heard the beginning of something good.  The RightNow CX initiative (will blog it in more detail tomorrow) is a very interesting approach to tackling the SCRM problem.  It takes the existing problems that RightNow is solving through Web and Contact Centers and adds Social channels and tools to manage them.

Is the model perfect? No, they were some hiccups during the meetings we had, some things still remain to be solved – but they provide a vision and a message that will probably serve as the starting point for end users to figure things out.  To try and succeed with solutions for their SCRM problems.  Being there gave me a lot of very useful, real-life information that I am ready to apply to my thinking (BTW, ego boost, everyone I talked to liked the way I explained SCRM – the roadmap I am building – some of them were just being nice, but I’ll take it).

RightNow trying to figure this out with their customers as they move along is actually a good thing.  It takes us outside of the mere theory of how to do this and right into a pragmatic method on how to solve the real-world problems.  I would like to see a more detailed delivery schedule for what was announced, and want to make sure that the message is tightened (which I know it will be in the next few weeks as changes already started to happen during the meeting), but I think that them being one of us, just feeling our way around is a good thing.

Looking forward to see the improvements along the way, and to learn from their customers what works and what does not.  Good start, and as I always tell them — I will be watching to see the progress.

What do you think? Should they have produced a framework and proclaimed it “ready”? Is this for SCRM as I say? Would love to hear what you think…

What Social Business means for Cloud Computing

Anthony Nemelka is a long-time veteran of the CRM industry, having previously served as a senior executive at both Peoplesoft and Epiphany and most recently co-founder and CEO at Helpstream.

At a well-attended Salesforce.com event at Oracle Open World two weeks ago, Marc Benioff delivered, in his typical style, a very well articulated argument for why Salesforce is poised to dominate the shift from client/server computing to cloud computing in the same way that Oracle dominated the shift from mainframe computing to client server.  It was a strong argument, graciously delivered given it was on Oracle’s stage. Shortly thereafter, Michael Dell joined Mr. Benioff and threw his support behind the shift to cloud computing, saying this shift is one of the reasons why Dell recently purchased Perot systems.

While many folks continue to debate whether or not cloud computing represents a migration or a transformation, those who have the most to gain or lose seem to be voting with their wallets. For the time being, Larry Ellison seems to be having fun poking holes in the cloud computing argument, but I don’t think it’s an accident that he allowed Mr. Benioff’s message to be delivered on his stage. This is one major trend he wants to stay very close to, with good reason.

As Mr. Benioff and Mr. Ellison were busy making their cases for and against the merits of cloud computing, a less evolved but equally important debate continued to simmer about the transformational impact of social business software (SBS).  At Oracle Open World, this debate was focused around CRM, the social business incarnation of which is popularly referred to as Social CRM (SCRM).

Sounding very similar to the arguments questioning the transformational impact of cloud computing, a good many incumbents in the CRM space continue to assert that, from a systems point of view, SCRM enablement requires no more than an add-on feature set to existing CRM systems. Add some collaboration and community features, sprinkle in social media support, add integrated alerts from Twitter and Facebook, and you’re all set.

The contrary view, outlined in one of my previous posts and further illustrated in an insightful post by Phil Wainewright, is that securing the competitive advantages associated with socially-enabling your business requires some serious re-thinking and re-design of your business strategies, policies, procedures, and processes. Unless you plan to drive similar projects across your entire business, a social-enablement project performed in one part of your business will chafe against the old ways of doing business in another. Social-enablement projects deployed in a single-process silo will likely fall far short of expected benefits. Because of this, the folks in the social business transformation camp argue that SCRM is best viewed as a critical component of a comprehensive social business enablement strategy, not simply an extension of existing CRM systems and processes.

Whether it’s cloud computing or socially-enabled business, there is a lot to be gained or lost by how these trends evolve in the marketplace.

It strikes me, though, that cloud computing and social business enablement are more closely linked than most people realize. The success of one will likely increase the likelihood of success of the other in the same way that the success of packaged enterprise software fueled the success of client/server computing two decades ago. This time around, it’s the “webification” of business that’s driving the shift, with social business enablement looming large as the next major incarnation of this phenomenon.

From an enterprise application software point of view, nothing is hotter than social business software. I’m constantly hearing great ideas for using social media, social collaboration, crowdsourcing, communities, and myriad other approaches for leveraging the Web to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of enterprises. If you’re a high tech entrepreneur, choosing the cloud computing platform for delivering your innovation is a no brainer. Why? For the same reasons entrepreneurs chose client/server computing two decades ago. The APIs are more flexible and forward looking, the development tools are easier to use, it’s the best way to differentiate from entrenched competitors, it’s a lot cheaper for customers, it’s the *only* platform for new products and services that investors will fund, and, probably most importantly, you can do a lot of “cool” things that are impossible to do with the old platform.

During the last big transition, I was working at IBM selling mainframe systems. Sometimes you learn a lot from your mistakes. I certainly did. It’s interesting to see that this time around Microsoft has become IBM, Google has become Microsoft, Salesforce has become Oracle, and Oracle continues to stay perched atop the high point of the technology adoption curve–ready to acquire its way into the most profitable phase of any major technology trend.

So what did I learn at Oracle Open World this year? I learned who will still be around a hundred years from now. And I learned a lot more about how the Web continues to change *everything*.  Social business and cloud computing are here to stay.

A Great New Analytical Application from Nexidia (and an Idea to "Improve" It)

Today Nexidia announced a new solution that allows call centers to use speech analytics in real time.

Normally this would have been very cool by itself (despite what you see in movies the technology we have cannot yet select a phone conversation from among millions – or even thousands – based on two or three keywords very accurately), but when I was being briefed on the solution I picked up on two additional things that  I think are worth mentioning: the patented technology, and their desire to use it in new areas.

Briefly, speech analytics works by converting sounds to words.  This is, usually, done word-by-word – and you can already imagine why real-time speech analytics is almost impossible to do.  Traditional speech recognition techniques that interpret words one-by-one work at 3-4 words per minute, which means they can analyze one hour of audio in about 15-20 minutes. Nexidia found a way to accelerate the using  a patented phonetic interpretation model that, just like is used to teach kids to read faster, speeds recognition up by magnitudes.  What used to be done in a 4:1 ratio can now be done in a 700:1 ratio; what used to take 15 minutes can now be done in seconds.  Behind the speech recognition engine there is a very powerful, very open analytical engine that was created specifically to handle real-time analytics.

Their announcement for today was a very cool application that I got to preview last week that takes clues from the conversation (key words, phrases, contextual information, etc.) and uses that to pull data and knowledge from the corporate systems and the knowledge base to assist the agents automatically as the conversation goes on.  It is dynamic, so it is continuously monitoring the conversations and providing more assistance.  I saw a couple of demos and they looked really good very interesting.  When deployed, it should help call centers cut down on Average Handle Time, increase Customer Satisfaction, and promote Employee Morale.  The results from the first clients showed significant improvements already.

So, why does it matter?

The only thing standing between Social Business becoming a reality is the lack of good analytical tools that can operate in quasi-real-time to help businesses make better decisions.  Actionable insights, as I wrote in my introduction to the Roadmap to SCRM, is the key outcome of implementing SCRM.  It is the value that business derive from interacting with customers across so many partners at the same time.  Valuable information on how to improve the business and better serve their customers — even in real-time – is the reason companies become Social Businesses.

During our conversation I deviated the talk from speech recognition to the embedded analytical engine and they confirmed that is very flexible and dynamic, that it can take input from anywhere – even social media channels (they are evaluating how to use it differently in the future).

My light bulb went off — what about putting the speed of processing of their analytical engine, the ability to support cross-channel, and the very cool app they have and turn it into a social business analytical solution?

We will have to wait, but for now the call center can deploy a very cool solution for real-time speech analytics.

Disclaimer: I have not been paid for writing this, nor will I get paid in the future.  This is my opinion, my position, my vision – my whatever-you-want-to-call it.  I truly want to see this tool moved to Social Media without loosing the power of the speech analytics, and that is the purpose of this entry.  Nexidia is not a client, nor do I have any friends or relatives that work there or for one of their contractors.  Seriously, get a demo because this is cool stuff – yes, kinda like rocket science.  As usual, do your due diligence and don’t take my word to be worth more than an opinion.  We all know what opinions are…

The Roadmap to SCRM – Part 2.2 of 5

Part 1 can be found here
Part 2.1 can be found here

This post was begotten by interesting comments I got to part 1.  My assumption that everyone should already understand the functions that comprise CRM, and how they should be addressed in building a SCRM strategy is not correct.

Current CRM Functions.  As everyone knows, CRM is comprised of three basic business functions: Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service; these are the areas of the enterprise that interact with the customer, and CRM being the system used to interact the most with customers, covers them.  CRM systems cover all three functions with different levels of depth for each one (e.g. they may have more modules to cover sales than marketing, or customer service over sales).  These modules work over different channels, usually supporting more than one (email and telephone can be used similarly to provide customer service) and leveraging common components used in each channel to make them work efficiently.  There still single-function or single-channel solutions but are the large minority.

SCRM is firstly implemented as additional channels to support existing functions; early examples: Twitter is added to cover technical support, community support functions are added to extend marketing functions, integration with  social network is provided to extend sales communications.  The functions and modules provided don’t change much, they are just extended into the Social Channels.  This is where most CRM vendors are today in offering solutions.

Wait, this is a strategy piece, why am I mentioning Technology?

Because you need to consider current technology for initial strategies of SCRM.  No, I did not say to only implement that which is supported by technology – you are still going to build your strategy according to your needs and If you need something beyond what can be supported today you need to be prepared to customize or build-your-own just as we did in the early stages of CRM deployments.

When planning your SCRM strategies you should not be limited by current offerings as to what you can do, but you must consider what’s available to use today to deploy pilots and proof-of-concept projects.  Customized and custom-developed solutions are not the best method to show your organization the value of SCRM – choose something that has been already implemented and show results to help you build support.  In other words, understand the existing offers and re-prioritize your list — using proper priorities to get early wins in smaller projects will give you more clout and power to release more ambitious projects in the near future.

Future Use of Social CRM Functions.  I am going to have to borrow a chart from the future discussions on communities to explain a little bit about the functions you should be planning to implement in your SCRM strategy.  The relationship between the customer and the organization, which dates back to the beginning of commerce essentially, is changing.  Relationships were (well, still are for the most part)  1:1 (one-to-one) and business functions are traditionally aligned to this: marketing targets a single individual, sales focuses on selling to customers one-by-one, and support is only provided from the organization directly to the customer via different methods.

Social businesses begin to incorporate different types of communities.  The most effective way to manage communities is to recognize that all customers are part of communities – usually more than one – and that those communities are heavy influences in your customers.  Contrary to what many are saying, the community will not replace the single customer in the CRM or SCRM interactions.  However, the communities change this old-established model from a 1:1 to a 1:1:M or one-to-one-to-many.  And here is where SCRM begins to show benefits.  Look at the following picture.

Slide 4
Figure 1 - Shifting Relationship Models in SCRM

A One-to-One-to-Many relationship means that although organizations still cater to individuals on a direct relationship, now they have to spend some cycles thinking how to provide the right information, access, and how to exert influence in the M (the community members supporting the customer).  This chart only shows the process of one specific customer (let’s call him Mr. Orange), a member of at least three communities.  However, and to make it more interesting, it is likely that at least some of the other members of the communities he belongs to are also customers of the same organization. That is when it gets interesting, because you have to tap into those customers both as individual customers and as community members exerting influence within them.

Why am I bringing this up?

SCRM is a strategy and it is an iterative process.  You have to continue to think of more than one way to do things, and how to evolve them.  We will cover this in more details when we talk about communities – but the idea is that if you start thinking in terms of communities instead of users when you plan for Social CRM Business Functions you can put your organization ahead of the curve.  Which, yes, does give your organization a competitive advantage, but even beyond that you can see how learning and understanding how to market, sell, and service communities early on can also position you better in planning future experiences.

Should you plan and deploy your business functions around these today? No, but you should most certainly plan and  pilot them — to begin to get comfortable with the idea.

Support for End-to-End Processes. Two critical issues to assure as you move into Social CRM are that you can effectively make the necessary changes to your existing processes to support the changes you need, and make sure that the data flows you select to support SCRM can actually be implemented in your organization.

In other words, if you can collect customer feedback via Twitter, but have no way to bring those insights into your analytics infrastructure to derive actionable insights, the original intent for getting that data does not matter as there is no value to collecting it.  Yes, even if you are only “listening” (which is not a real strategy or objective – but I digress).  The data flows from the social channels must be able to make it automatically into the analytics infrastructure or else is a waste of time.

That’s it for the first sub-strategy of a SCRM strategy: Functional Strategy — What do you think? Going in the right direction?  Missing something?  Drop me a note below, let me know – happy to make changes and talk about it…

Updated: Link to next part for easy reading Part 3 – SCRM Rules Layer

The Roadmap to SCRM – Part 2.1 of 5

First part is available here for your review.

This was supposed to be part 2.0 but an exchange in the comments section to part one convinced me that I was assuming a lot of things were known when in reality they may not be known.  So, instead of 2.0 this is part 2.1 where we discuss the three elements in the model I could not discuss at length in part 1: actionable insights, experiences, and the pivot point.  Part 2.2 will be tomorrow-ish, where we talk more about what functions are necessary, strategies, and methodologies for that.  Yes, heavy stuff but will try to make it look like fun.

OK, so there are three critical elements in the SCRM implementation model that I discussed yesterday that need more details.  Here is the model so you can see them again:

Slide1Let’s talk first about the Social Business Pivot Point.  This is the hand-off (in both directions) between Enterprise 2.0 implementations and SCRM implementations.  This is also the critical point where you decide whether a business is a social business or not.  Why?  Good question, three things need to happen here for the business to reflect it is social:

  • The pivot point must ensure that the entire process occurs; that the feedback from the customer does indeed get acted on and that those actions result in better experiences back to the customer.  Customers care about the experiences – whether in the form or better products, improved services, or more personalized interfaces.  This is why this pivot point is there, acting as a “Listening Post” that marries performance and efficiency from internal operations with effectiveness and “satisfaction” from client-facing operations.  If you cannot correlate the metrics from both sides to make sure you are on track to deliver against expectations, you are going in the wrong direction.  We are going to cover the metrics more in a future installment, but for now you have to remember that measuring only one side of this picture is not going to work, nor will it measuring both sides and not correlating them.
  • The pivot point ensures that the social business is about more than just listening to customers.  Look at this other picture to get a better idea of that.
Figure 2 - the Social Business Pivot Point in Action
Figure 2 – the Social Business Pivot Point in Action

What you see here is the social business in action using the pivot point as the real hand-off between the SCRM functions and the rest of the enterprise.  If it makes you feel better, you can add an S in front of the three systems in the back, but that does not change a thing: you still need the pivot point to make sure that all feedback and data collected by SCRM is spread throughout the systems in the enterprise to reach the intended destination where it can be acted on.  These three systems, examples really, are not meant to replace Enterprise 2.0 but are rather an example of the specific functions that a SCRM implementation will affect within the organization. Feedback about the length of time it takes the organization to process a refund payment (for example) would be used to improve the ERP financial functions.  Feedback about quality of raw materials can be used to improve SCM and so forth.

  • The pivot point ensures that a corporation remains customer-centric not only on talk, but on action.  Letting the customers know that their feedback begets an actionable insight that is later put in practice by a specific part of the organizations, and seeing the loop being closed by a better or new experience is the quintessential implementation of feedback management.  If an organization is committed to becoming a social business sufficiently to do that, then you can almost ensure that they are customer-centric.

Last two critical elements talk about the paths that information takes from the customer into the organization (feedback becomes actionable insights) and back out to the customer (end-to-end processes support experiences).  Lets talk about the information coming in first.

I have said many times before that SCRM is about adding social channels to a CRM implementation, and still think that is true.  However, the main difference is that these channels produce unstructured data.  In contrast with a telephone call to a call center where all the data is structured and fits in specific places (or is forever ignored in “wrap-up notes”), a social channel statement could be addressed to someone other than the corporation, use language that may not be well defined by the organization, and produce feedback that is always unstructured.  The true work for organizations embracing SCRM is not monitoring social media channels (there are plenty of tools that allow you to do that) but actually feeding that information into analytical tools that will:

  1. understand what is being said,
  2. analyze it for relevance and content,
  3. classify it,
  4. aggregate it to form actionable insights (more than one person must express a problem for it to be a problem; two is a pattern, and three is a trend), and
  5. feed it back through the pivot point into the corporation for it to be handled

This is a little bit more complicated that I make it sound and that you can imagine.  Monitoring and collecting data is the easy part, but using the text analytics tools that are necessary to draw the meaning and content out of unstructured data requires a heavy investment of resources (not just money, it is not that expensive) and time to make sure that good data goes in and good results is inferred and deducted from the analysis.  Alas, without this investment there is no point in collecting the data.  Humans don’t scale to the point they can read all comments and act on them, nor do computers auto-magically understand what is being said.  Text analytics is a critical tool of this model.

Tired yet?  On to the final part: building or improving the experiences.

I am not going to go into a deep discussion of co-creation, systems thinking, design thinking and / or the different methods to accomplish this.  I have my own methodology for this, some like it some don’t – works for me and the people that used it in the past.  Really does not matter how you address the issue of building customer experiences – feel free to debate merits and problems for each method in the comments below (sorry, I am not going to engage in the discussion of one being better than the other – I love all my kids equally).

However, and here is the key,  you need to make sure that you have the ability to deploy and support those experiences.

What does that mean?  Your business needs to be setup in such a way that is easy to change processes and make modifications to the way it works. Most organizations are setup in such a way that any change requires committees, political fights, complicated approval processes and virtually no executive support.  If that is you, then no matter how much you talk about being customer-centric, you ain’t.  I realize this is not ground-breaking as saying “here is the best way to do customer experiences” – but this is one the most critical parts of adopting SCRM.  If you cannot walk the talk when it comes to closing the loop (implementing the actionable insights you gathered before) don’t bother going there.

Remember the old adage, throwing technology at a bad process simply transforms it into a very fast, bad process.

OK, part 2.1 is done.  Tomorrow (maybe tonight) part 2.2. – a little bit more detail on the specific functions you have to embrace to embrace SCRM and how to make them work with the rest of the enterprise.

What do you think so far? I think that the pivot point as a listening post is an interesting take on the model (then again, I wrote it) – don’t you? Would you add or change something?

Updated: Added link to next section for easy reading Part 2.2 – SCRM Business Functions


Why Pragmatic Enteprise 2.0 Should Also Become Pragmatic SCRM

By now you probably read all about the new partnership between Hinchcliffe & Company, Asuret, and Socialtext to form Pragmatic Enterprise 2.0.  If you have not, choose from the following excellent reviews of the solution and the details.

Paul Greenberg

Marshall Lager

Sameer Patel

I was going to do some reporting on it as well, but then started to think that a) there is no way I can write something new or different, and b) these guys did a much better job than I could.  So, what’s left to do? Critical thinking – my favorite.

Here is what I think.

I like Asuret, I reviewed it before in my blog.  It is a great solution in search of problems to solve.  I also like Dion’s writing in the ZDNet blog, I think he has tremendous experience in Enterprise 2.0 and overall collaboration.  I think great of them independently – but when you can integrate them (yes, I know they are people) and use Michael’s failure prevention best practices with Dion’s success enhancement best practices you actually get the best of both worlds. The addition of Socialtext (the finest solution out there for Enterprise 2.0 bar none) makes the team even more powerful.

Any organization that takes on this offering will get first a set of guidelines and best practices on how to implement Enterprise 2.0 – compliments of Dion.  Then, when you think you know what you are doing and how to proceed with your initiative Michael comes in and interviews the key stakeholders using questions derived from Dion’s best practices – and that have been adapted to the specific situation of the prospect or client.  When you are done you have not only the best way to proceed but also know what shortcuts to take (or avoid) in the way to success in your particular organization.  This correlation between success and failure-prevention is not only invaluable but also bound to shorten the time and cost of deployment.

Why does it work for Enterprise 2.0 deployments so well?  Actually, it would work for any project with controlled environments.  Enterprise 2.0 is just an example, but implementing it for a Content Management Systems deployment, or a Knowledge Management initiative would yield similar results (far higher scores in risk management, higher chances of success, shorter deployment periods, and lower costs among other benefits).  As long as there is a controlled scenario with known players to interview, documented best practices, deployment methodologies, and measurable factors you can succeed.

I talked to Michael Krigsman about this earlier today, discussing what I was writing.  I said that my bottom line is that this model should be adapted to SCRM as well, considering that my models for E2.0 and SCRM are very similar in nature.  He was the one who mentioned the controlled scenario as known players as being critical for the success of this undertaking.  I initially agreed with him, thinking that deploying an external community has too many unknown players and uncontrolled scenarios – but then I thought a little bit more about it and realized that the success of the external community passes not through the many users, but rather the super-users and power-users.  These are known, and the scenario in which they participate is very much controlled.  Any successful community partners the sponsors and the super-users and power-users and provides them with tools and knowledge to assist them in doing their “job”.  This partnership resembles a traditional IT project (give or take a few distinctions) sufficiently that the Pragmatic Enterprise 2.0 model could be used in it – as long as the best practices and practitioner could be found in this new model.

Now, think about that for a moment.  What if you could shorten the time it would take to deploy a successful community?  What if you knew what your super-users and power-users thought of the community at every stage of the way?  What if you could (practically) ensure success for your external communities by increasing risk management and managing to certain success instead of uncertain failure?  Wouldn’t you be more willing to embrace SCRM and communities for your organization?

I think so, and that is why I think that Michael, Dion, and Socialtext should look for equivalents in the SCRM world and work towards Pragmatic SCRM.

What do you think? Is it not the secret to communities success deftly managing super-users and power-users? Wouldn’t this work?

Disclaimer: I don’t hold any commercial relationships with any of the parties in this write-up, nor do I expect to do so in the near future.  If the situation were to change, I’d change this disclaimer to reflect it.  I write what I write out of my own will, and I neither receive nor expect any compensation for my writing (although I do wish so, until it happens the FTC cannot say much about this).  My reviews and recommendations are based on what I consider improvements for the SCRM market.  You are, as always, admonished to do your own Due Diligence before taking anything  I say or write at face value and purchasing a product or establishing a relationship.  Even my wife and daughters know that.  I am only responsible for this content and my actions, I will gladly correct any factual errors on it, and I will stand behind what I write.  Your actions, interpretation of my writing, and what you think of it is your responsibility and I cannot help you there.

The SCRM Roadmap – Part 1 of 5

I had to let some time go by between the latest definition controversy and this post so I could say that this is not about definitions. Those are done.

This is about how a business undertakes the road to becoming a social business while dealing with customers (fine, how does a business embrace SCRM).

In putting this together I tried different approaches.  Tried to make it look like a roadmap, but there were not clear point-to-point directions to take as the assumption would be that all companies start from the same point – and we all know that is nowhere near the case.  I tried to take it as a straight road with a set of rond-points for each sub-strategy, but that did not work either as the feeding roads into each rond-point were very complicated and not all organizations needed them all. I finally settled on a pyramid shape.  I like pyramids because they build on the previous layer to grow.  And that is the way to build your SCRM strategy: you have to have one layer set before you can move to the next one.

Each layer in this pyramid represent a sub-strategy you have to have set before moving to the next one.  If you don’t have the base layer strategy documented, you are not going to be able to move to the next one.  Figure 1 shows the different sub-strategies an organization must create to end up with a SCRM strategy.  There are four sub-strategies (from the bottom up): communities, channels, rules, and functional (in the next four days we will explore each one in more detail):


What is that?  The chart is wrong?  Well, I guess you could say that… but it is not.  You do start crafting your SCRM strategy from the top and progress slowly towards the bottom.  Yes, it sounds crazy – but just enough that it might work.

The inclination today for everybody who is trying to implement SCRM is to start with a — tool.  Communities. Twitter. Blogs. Wikis.  Let’s deploy them, monitor and listen, see what we can gather and then we can decide whether it is for us or not.  Guess what? you don’t have that luxury.  You have to embrace the social business model because your customers, your competitors, your partners – heck, your whole world is moving in that direction.  Sure, you can try a channel or two and see what happens – but that is not going to get your an iota closer to understanding how your business becomes social as it relates to your clients.  Remember the “twittable” definition Paul Greenberg set for Social CRM?

The company’s response to the customer’s control of the conversation.

You have to embrace becoming social, as it is your company’s response to your customers becoming social.  So, as long as you HAVE TO do it, might as well do it right – from the business perspective.  Start from the functions that your business performs with customers, figure out the rules you are going to follow, determine the best channels for each, and finally figure out which communities to deploy on.  If you have more questions than answers at this time, no worries – we will cover in painful detail each layer as we move along, and there are more posts coming (heck, it might even turn into an e-book later if I have the time).

OK, let’s assume you have that under control (somewhat) and are already working on preparing the SCRM strategy.  Now it comes time to deploy it in your organization.  Where is the best place to put it?  Glad you ask… that was last week’s insomnia.

Since SCRM represents the response to your customer’s control of the conversation, I am going to imagine that you want to get some value out of having those conversations.  After all, the true value of SCRM is not listening or engaging, is ACTIONABLE INSIGHTS.

I will say that again, the ONLY value that deploying SCRM brings to your organization is actionable insights derived from the feedback your customers provide and actions you observe.  So, how do you create actionable insights?  You use the analytical tools that come with either Social Monitoring or Social Analytics tools, or you use the ones you already have deployed in your organization.

So, let’s say you already captured and deciphered some actionable insights – what do you do with those?  This is where the concept of social business becomes critical.  If you remember, we defined SCRM as the customer-facing operations of your business and Enterprise 2.0 as the internal operations.  The actionable insights that you collected have to move through to the Enterprise 2.0 framework you deployed.  Figure 2 will show you better what that looks like:


The first you will notice is that I am proposing that the organization internally and externally is basically the same; I am willing to be wrong there.  If anyone out there from the E2.0 world wants to provide me a better setup for the internal operations, I’d be happy to take it.  Until then, this works for the purpose of my theories (and I suspect I am not very far off).  Feedback collected becomes actionable insight and the internal operations of the company (Enterprise 2.0) works on them to improve operations, prepare better products, take actions on what went wrong, etc.  Those actions result in either a new or improved  end-to-end process, which in turn is presented back to the customer (via the SCRM setup) as an experience.

We have come a full circle, we have tied all the loose ends and we can stop arguing about who is right and who it wrong.  SCRM is an extension to CRM (as I have said all along), and Enterprise 2.0 connects with SCRM to take the internal operations of the Social Business to the customers.

Oh yeah, the entire setup (SCRM and Enterprise 2.0) is your social business strategy as we discussed last time.

There is a lot more to discuss here: more details in each layer, a better setup for Enterprise 2.0, the proper way to hand-off information in both directions between SCRM and Enterprise 2.0, etc.  There are probably a gazillion holes you can poke in this model, I am sure, and areas where you can make it stronger.  This is not finished anywhere but in my mind – sorta.

Poke away, tell me what I did wrong, what I assumed as proper and it was not, etc.  Make it better.  At the end, we all benefit from it.  What do you think?

Update: link to next part, for easy reading Part 2.1 – SCRM-E2.0 Pivot Point

News Roundup: Things That Happened Last Week (And Some Analysis)

I get plenty of Press Releases, News, and Emails from people in the industry.  Some of them are converted into Posts, some of them are good enough to know, some of them, well – I won’t tell you how to use Soda Pop to rob a bank, let’s just say that…

Here is a compilation of news I got this week that you should know.

Parature Announces a New CEO

From their email to me (press release and article):

Parature is delighted to announce that we have hired Tim Davenport as our new CEO.  Tim comes to us from Revolution Health Network and is the former CEO of several successful local software companies.  Tim is the former CEO of Vastera where he set a very strategic agenda and grew the company which was eventually sold to JP Morgan Chase.  Tim was also the CEO of Best Software.  Best Software had a very successful IPO in 1997 and was one of the software industry’s most successful companies

I did get to ask a few questions, and it seems that this new CEO main focus is to grow the company (I should say continue to grow, since they have been tearing up quarters in excess of 40% lately) and help them penetrate both new markets and enter large enterprises.  According to initial reports from employees, Tim has a great vision and seems ready to roll.

Confirmit Partners with Clarabridge

From their Press Release:

Confirmit, the leading global vendor of software for Customer Feedback, Employee Feedback and Market Research, and Clarabridge, the leading provider of text analytics solutions that improve customer experience management (CEM), today announced a partnership to drive contextual insight for global enterprises to a new level.

I got to talk to Confirmit about this, and it seems that they have a long-term goal of integrating both products very deeply.  To me this is a move that we will see more and more in the near future (and the reason I wanted to highlight it).  You probably heard me talk about Feedback Management a lot, and how the true value comes from structuring the unstructured.  You also may have seen my previous post where I assert that Feedback Management is the fourth pillar in Social CRM.  This is the first step towards making SCRM stick and be rewarding to organizations: collect all the feedback and information from Social Channels and transactions into a Feedback Management Tool (Confirmit), and use a Text Analytics tool (Clarabridge) to decode the unstructured and come up with — actionable insights: the value that SCRM provides to the organization (and the missing piece of most CRM implementations until today).  This is going to be big, and you saw it here first…

Oracle Moves Social CRM Forward

At Oracle OpenWorld this week, Oracle announced their new lineup for Social CRM modules and some other enhancements to their Siebel CRM and CRM OnDemand offerings.  I posted earlier in the week about this, so you can read more about it here and there (since it dominated the news, I had to post it here)