Customer relationship management has always been a multichannel discipline. You should connect and bond with your customers through whatever mix channels they use or prefer. That has traditionally meant that existing channels be supplemented and extended by whatever new technologies come along. Hence, any enterprise serious about multichannel CRM has begun to add social media to a strategy that includes point of sale, direct postal mail, agent-assisted telephony, interactive voice response, email, portals and text messaging — at the very least.

Social CRM is the newest craze in this arena. It refers generally to the convergence of social media with CRM. However, in the minds of some observers it seems to imply that social media will somehow become the most important CRM channel of all, marginalizing or obsoleting others. I take issue with that perspective, which threatens to turn social media, in all their billowing multiplicity, into a big new overstuffed silo in the CRM world.

I don’t deny that social-networking interfaces are all the range in the CRM space. One obvious case in point is Salesforce.com’s Chatter collaboration platform, which looks and feels so Facebook-y that, navigating through it, I half-expect my cousins to be posting new vacation pictures to the community.

 And I don’t deny that social media are the most fruitful new source of real-time intelligence on customer awareness and sentiment, feeding the sales and marketing functions at the core of CRM. In fact, Attensity’s announcement yesterday that it is acquiring social media monitoring vendor Biz360is just the latest sign that social media are a core technology not just in modern CRM, but also in content analytics, process analytics, and business intelligence.This announcement follows the recent acquisition by BPM vendor Pegasystems of Chordiant, one of the pioneering providers of social CRM suites.

If you want to see how truly hot social media are in CRM, follow the upward trajectory of the social media monitoring platform market, also referred to as “listening platforms.” A good place to start is to check out last year’s excellent Forrester Wave by my Marketing and Strategy colleagues Suresh Vittal and Zach Shall-Hofer, which I understand they’ll soon be updating.

As Forrester’s social CRM analyst in the business process orbit, I’m seeing more clients take a keen interest in these and other applications, tools, and platforms—including BPM, BI, data mining, and predictive analytics--to support seamless integration into their multichannel initiatives. What I advise them is to ramp up the automation of more and more social CRM functions while hubbing their multichannel initiatives around customer data integration initiatives, including enterprise data warehouses and master data management processes.

The benefits of integrating and automating social CRM within a multichannel strategy are as follows:

  • Scale and scope: Automation enables listening and engagement across greater volume and variety of user-generated, influencer-generated, and brand-generated content. This content includes diverse historical and real-time customer-intelligence sources, such as social media platforms, CRM and other transactional systems, Web analytics, focus groups, satisfaction ratings, and market research services.
  • Speed and performance: Automation supports accelerated issue detection, response, routing, escalation, resolution, agent productivity, and ideation. It enables reduction in personnel-assisted interactions and deflection of across all stakeholders in the CRM lifecycle to the community regarding brand, product, and customer service issues.
  • Customization: Automation supports more fine-grained customization of event-, promotion-, campaign-, company-, brand-, community-, media-, source-, and topic-specific listening/engagement functions, thereby enabling more in-depth conversation management across the CRM lifecycle.
  • Cross-channel integration: Automation supports more comprehensive cross-channel integration across the CRM life cycle, including social media, email, phone, chat, postal mail, texting, web, ecommerce, and POS programs.
  • Compliance: Automation supports more consistent, transparent enforcement of rules of engagement, workflows, policies, and auditing across the CRM lifecycle.
  • Analytics: Automation enables stakeholders to access and apply more comprehensive, in-depth analytics across the CRM lifecycle, including dashboards, reports, KPIs, alerts, trending, predictive models, social network analysis, influencer analysis, segmentation, churn analysis, upsell/cross-sell analysis, market basket analysis, and next-best offer.

To realize these benefits, you require a multichannel CRM platform that supports:

  • Aggregated EDW repository of multi-channel 360-degree customer intelligence from diverse historical and real-time sources
  • Analytics tools to support monitoring, measurement, exploration, filtering, correlation, aggregation, query, assessment, processing, and response to customer intelligence, including reports, queries, dashboards, charts, alerts, and notifications
  • Customer life-cycle engagement process-management platform that supports unified, real-time, predictive optimization of multi-channel, multi-touchpoint engagement processes, with maximum rule-driven automation and analytical decision support of all CRM issues, supporting efficient collaborative handling of all engagement functions performed by all roles

What do you think? As Forrester deepens our coverage of all things social CRM, we very much want to know what projects you’re undertaking or contemplating.
Jim also blogs at http://blogs.forrester.com/james_kobielus/.