I’ve discovered five principles of social CRM in real life. They are:
- Customer feedback flows to the most appropriate destination
- Responses come from someone who matters
- CRM conversations are based in mutual respect and understanding
- Follow-through matters
- Consumers become brand ambassadors
What separates these principles from the countless others that have been written about is that these come directly from a real world experience. Here is the story:
I own a small business – BloomThink. We are a social business strategy agency. I’ve got a deep background in enterprise information management, collaboration and social media. So I’m especially sensitive to trying to practice what I preach when it comes to running my own business.
As a business, we have regular business overhead like insurance. This is a real life case study of social CRM happening, to me, with my commercial insurance company. It is encouraging. It demonstrates how engagement with customers can turn a complaint into an advantage and a disenchanted customer into an advocate.
Here’s the quick background: After one year with my commercial business policy through American Family Insurance I received a packet of “audit” papers from them asking me to fill out the forms, in pen, and mail them back. Upon looking through the audit pack, I realized that not only did the overwhelming number of questions not apply to BloomThink, but also the ones that did apply were simple confirmations of information already in their system.
So here I am, a small business owner, realizing that part of my premium is going to support a system that performs the following steps:
- Print forms from a computer screen (possibly from a series of database fields)
- Fold, envelope stuff and mail forms to consumer
- Consumer fills out forms in pen, refolds, stuffs them back into another envelope, searches for stamps, mails back.
- AmFam receives mail, routes letter to opening department where it’s opened, read and passed on again to the “right” agent.
- Right agent reviews and scans the paper with OCR to create a record.
- Agent manually indexes fields to ensure accuracy and fix any OCR errors
- System is updated showing the BloomThink account is up to date and accurately charged & covered.
What a nightmare. So I called in and asked if there was an electronic version where I could simply check a “no information has changed” box and update / confirm my record. The answer was no. “This is the way we do it” is what I was told. I asked if they accepted electronic signatures – thinking that I could upload the forms into something like adobe Echo Sign to create an electronic version of the form myself. Again, “Nope.” was the cheerful answer given to me. I then asked the customer service rep if there was a place I could log a complaint and enhancement request. “Online at our website” was the answer. Sigh. Aside from the miserable experience (not offering to help and directing me to generic “at our website” locations) I was wasting time.
I found the website and left a comment. The comment wasn’t angry. I expressed my frustration but laid out ways in which the process could be made more efficient. I also provided helpful citations for resources (like where the US Code establishes the legal legitimacy of eSignatures).
Two days later I got a phone call from Mary Schunk. Mary is the technical systems manager for commercial insurance. This is where AmFam started to turn things around for me.
1) I got a response from someone who mattered
Mary is not some front-line customer service rep in an offshore location. This was someone who deals with new technology programs and services for the company. The way she got my comment from the AmFam website is a testament to the speed and efficiency of their internal collaboration. Mary said that my original form submission started out in customer service and kept getting passed up and through the organization. This suggests a matrix-style organization that facilitates rather than restricts the flow of information. I do not know what software systems they use, but customers shouldn’t care as long as they get the right outcome. I did get the right outcome.
2) Good Social CRM means feedback easily and rapidly flows from its origination point to the most appropriate destination
Mary started off by acknowledging my concerns and not in a patronizing way but in an empathetic way. I heard, “You’re right”; a stark but welcome contrast to the previous series of “No” replies I had received. We proceeded to have a conversation about what programs they’re currently working on (including electronic submission of routine forms), ideas on how to bridge the old-school customers who prefer paper and the new school customers like myself who value expedience and convenience.
3) At the core of the conversation was a mutual respect that quickly developed.
I understand that large organizations take time to roll out new programs. The fact that the person directly involved with those new programs called to chat was important. Equally important was the fact that I offered suggestions (real, tactical suggestions) and acknowledged an understanding of the business decision making and roll-out process. This meant that I wasn’t throwing around threats to “take my business elsewhere” but rather that I was willing to engage them with constructive feedback if they were willing to put some accountability on the line for me.
Conversations are one thing but the results are in the outcomes. Business shouldn’t rely on “activity based rewards”. Doing a lot of “stuff” and “trying hard” doesn’t cut it. As Yoda said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” So we’ll wait and see what Mary and AmFam are able to accomplish. They have restored my confidence that there are smart people working there who are thinking and doing along the right lines. Their accountability is in follow through.
4) Social CRM in real life must follow up and follow through in order to be successful
The goals of social CRM shouldn’t simply be to buy more time or to dodge a bullet. Rather it should be to improve customer experience while improving the way your business is run. The example with American Family Insurance and Mary Schunk shows that big companies are realizing that consumers are more than faceless sources of income. It shows that they realize their programs have tangible impacts for their customers. Even small improvements will be amplified and felt downstream. I can honestly say that I’m optimistic about the trajectory of American Family Insurance. And this brings us to our last point about Social CRM in real life:
5) Great Social CRM turns faceless customers into brand ambassadors
AmFam didn’t ask me to write this post. I told Mary I was going to do so. I asked for (and received) permission to use her name. But it is a great example of how one organization took some time to acknowledge my concerns by someone who mattered who was made aware of my concerns through a well-working internal collaboration and information sharing flow. We developed a mutual rapport that acknowledged the realities of big project timing and the necessity for demonstrable improvement. Meanwhile they get good PR from this post while I get a great story to share about Social CRM in real life.