The New (Social) Customer Advocate

Over the past few months, the #scrm Accidental Community has had several conversations about who should “own” social media and Social CRM within an organization. Though we’ve had a lot of productive conversation, I believe we’ve collectively come to the conclusion that there is no definitive answer other than “it depends”. You can find some links to some of these conversations at the end of this blog post.

But don’t fear, dear readers. The dialogue has not been in vain. There have been a number of insightful takeaways, and the journey of those conversations has arguably been more valuable than the originally mapped destination.

In the end, some corporate Social Media initiatives will be unmistakeably intertwined with corporate DNA, being touted and driven throughout the organization from the top. Zappos is the first company to come to mind.

In other organizations, a groundswell will rise from within, starting slowly with one or two internal advocates who see real opportunity, and then spreading as small “wins” are accomplished and shared. The most likely areas from which this groundswell will emerge today are marketing and/or customer service.

At Comcast, just a few people have ultimately changed the corporate culture of a company 100,000+ strong. Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, one of Social Media for Business’s poster children recalls Comcast’s journey with Twitter. From Frank Reed’s Story over on Marketing Pilgrim:

“It has changed the culture of our company,” Roberts said.

Comcast has for a while now been using Twitter to scan for complaints and engage with customers. The idea was not his, but rather rose organically when someone in the company realized that a lot of public complaints were being sent over Twitter.

Well, since we are talking about Twitter, let me share a little slice of my life from yesterday. Mitch Lieberman, John Moore, Josh Weinberger, Kathy Herrmann, Mike Muhney, Valeria Montoni , Russ Hatfield, Glenn Ross and I had the privilege of participating in another “accidental” conversation that was a slightly different iteration of this “Who should now own Social Media?” question. Wim Rampen showed up a little late, so he’ll just have to weigh in below (along with all the others where they’re not limited by 140 characters.) :)

The topic being discussed by was essentially “Who should carry the front line conversation?” At first blush, this seems like a very similar question. However, I view it as significantly different. It’s different because it changes the conversation from “Who decides what the organization will do with Social Media?” to “Who actually does it?”. The conversation is moving from ideation to implementation, and that, my dear friends, is exciting.

(Speaking of implementation, after you are done reading this post, head over to Esteban Kolsky’s blog to read an excellent ongoing blogpost series titled “The Roadmap to SCRM”)

Valeria Montoni wrote a great article titled Twitter, Customer Service, and good Brand Management which speaks to the value of monitoring Twitter to hear what people are saying about your brand. Valeria shares both explicitly and implicitly that the traditional worlds of customer service, brand management, and marketing as a whole must be intertwined in the context of the Social dialogue.

If Social CRM is “…designed to engage the customer in a collaborative conversation in order to provide mutually beneficial value in a trusted & transparent business environment…the company’s response to the customer’s ownership of the conversation.”, then I submit that it makes perfect sense that the team or individual responsible for interacting with customers and prospects be FULLY EQUIPPED AND EMPOWERED to engage with the customer in whichever direction they’d like to take the conversation.

*** Let me restate that ***

The team or individual responsible for interacting with customers and prospects must be FULLY EQUIPPED AND EMPOWERED to engage with the customer in whichever direction they’d like to take the conversation.

Take a step back and consider the implications of that statement for a moment.

- How many different reasons are there for your organization have a conversation with your prospects and customers today? and subsequently…

- How many people within your organization can effectively lead or participate in each of those conversations in a manner which aligns with your organizational goals, vision, and strategy?

I am assuming your mind didn’t jump to a picture of your latest intern, or an entry level customer service rep. Most likely, your mind jumped to Director level and above type personnel. Every company has a couple of them – someone who just “gets it”. Someone who carries “juice” across departments, teams, org structure, and one of the few that is the living lifeblood of the organization.

Meet your new “Social Customer Advocate”; a big picture thinker, enthusiastic about the company’s vision and mission, in tune with marketing/branding strategy, with a genuinely caring and transparent attitude, a leader and manager, who is, oh by the way, savvy enough to look for opportunities to sell your company’s new product and service offerings.

They are customer service, marketing, and sales. They are the face of the organization, and their face and their written word are going to be well known across the interactive landscape of your customer and prospect base(s).

Here’s the Understatement of the Day: This type of thinking is a MAJOR SHIFT for many organizations.

For smaller companies, this actually may not be that difficult to imagine. Entrepreneurs across the country have lived in this multi-faceted role for decades. But for the Fortune 1000, is this possible? Can this scale?

I know what your thinking…

Companies have just spent the last couple of decades trying to minimize customer service costs. IVRs, offshoring, outsourcing, and entry level workers have become the first line of defense for corporations across the globe, and important/critical issues get escalated up the chain to the high paid knowledge workers only when necessary.

Yes. However, unfortunately for companies for who have spent gazillions building a corporate culture and infrastructure around minimizing the cost of each customer interaction, the customer now can not only yell about how unhappy they are with their poor experience to the gals at the salon, or the fellas at the local watering hole, but their disdain can be spread and amplified across the globe in days, if not hours.

I submit that as culture and society becomes more technologically social, organizations will need to change the way they interact.

Enter the Social Customer Advocate.
They will act as the funnel for corporate interactions through social channels. They will choose to engage directly, or distribute the customer or prospect requests to an appropriate resource within the organization. They are the brand’s representative to the world for anything that a prospect or customer may desire to dialogue about.

Today, they may be Directors, VPs, or even C-Level Execs. Ultimately, they will lead and quarterback the team to success, and the makeup of these folks will be darn hard to find, and even harder to duplicate.

Someday down the road, this role may be automated and replaced by technology like so many other key roles from yesteryear. But we are just journeying into this new frontier, and we are a long way from being able to successfully automate genuine conversations with customers..

So then, my questions for you:

1. Is it feasible for mid sized or large organizations to find and leverage the Social Customer Advocate?
2. What are the keys to finding, duplicating, and leveraging Social Customer Advocates?
3. What primary cultural challenges await this shift in customer engagement?
4. Who do you know that have already used a Social Customer Advocate or Advocate(s) in their organization?
5. What are your top arguments against using a Social Customer Advocate?

More Social CRM Reading:

Who Owns Social Media? by Brian Solis
Q: Who Should Own Social CRM – A: Not who you think by Graham Hill
Unleashing the Value of Social CRM: Where to find the biggest return
Social CRM: Overhyped Fad or Transformational Solution

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