Each week as Smallbizlady, I conduct interviews with small business experts on my weekly Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. This is excerpted from my #SmallBizChat interview with Howard Yermish @hyermish. Howard has worked professionally in Internet development since 1993.
Howard has consulted on projects for clients such as AOL, Commerce Bank, Disney, Kaiser Permanente, Mattel and Microsoft, as well as start-up ventures. As a professional speaker, he presents topics such as Internet strategy, social networks, and productivity. For more information: http://www.howardyermish.com
Smallbizlady: What is Social Customer Relationship Management?
Howard Yermish: Social CRM is a sub-system of an overall customer relationship management effort. The goal is for a business to be efficient and effective with building trust with its prospects and customers. A good CRM system should facilitate capturing interactions with your customers, organize these interactions so others in the business can effectively help customers, and facilitate decision-making based on the collected customer data.
Smallbizlady: How is Social CRM different from what those of us who’ve been in business a long time call Customer Relationship Management systems?
Howard Yermish: The big deal with Social CRM is that so much of the conversation that traditionally happened in phone calls or site visits is now happening in email, Tweets, Facebook comments, blogs, reviews and forum posts. Using a dashboard or monitoring tool isn’t a shortcut to having a good CRM system, but at least it is a place to start getting a handle on this significant business challenge.
Smallbizlady: What do you think are the challenges that small businesses face when trying to embrace Social CRM?
Howard Yermish: The first challenge has nothing to do with Social CRM. It has to do with having a detailed profile of your customers. This profile needs to go beyond general demographics and anecdotal evidence. The profile needs to include key performance indicators, which are different from business to business. You have to know what data to collect. Otherwise you might try to capture everything, which gets in the way of a natural customer interaction.
The next big challenge is to understand listening. Businesses used to rely on direct feedback from customers or formal market research. However, listening now includes communications on the Internet — anyone active on Twitter knows this. There are plenty of case studies showing how the simple Internet monitoring has helped large and small businesses have better relationships with their prospects and customers.
Smallbizlady: Is listening the place to start for Social CRM?
Howard Yermish: It is certainly the easiest and least costly place to start. You can setup Google Alerts to monitor external content. You can use saved searches in Twitter to grab real-time Twitter data. You can search public Facebook posts and comments.A combination of social dashboards, RSS readers and your own web analytics should be part of your regular diet of online data consumption. Once you start getting data from these efforts, you will figure out ways to refine your listening devices to get better or more nuanced data. And you will need to continually refine your data collection processes.
Smallbizlady: So after I have all of these Internet listening devices in place, what is next?
Howard Yermish: Having a formal response plan in place is key. The business needs to have a specific process as to how it responds to both positive and negative feedback. Just because a customer starts whining on Twitter doesn’t mean that organization should move mountains — it teaches your customers that whining works. You might simply want to redirect complaints to traditional channels like telephone support. Perhaps using Twitter or Facebook directly/publicly could potentially compromise customer privacy. When you think through your response plan, consider both who is the appropriate person to answer and where the answer should be posted. You do not want to get caught in a flaming comments war on someone else’s blog.
- Make sure to read this article from David Meerman Scott: The US Air Force: Armed with social media — http://www.webinknow.com/2008/12/the-us-air-force-armed-with-social-media.html
Smallbizlady: What ways can small businesses be more proactive with Social CRM efforts?
Howard Yermish: It depends on your specific customer profile. Let’s say that you run a floral company and your customers are all brides to be. If brides are all reading specific blogs about wedding planning, perhaps you should be participating on those blogs or websites — not in a sales way, but in a helpful way. You might be inclined to post comments or offer to guest post on the site. This is definitely a great idea, but you might have missed an early strategy step. In this case, are the brides that use a particular website actually good and profitable customers?
Start with a simple survey to your existing or prior customers to find out which blogs and websites they used to find a photographer or DJ. Make sure to reward them for their time and effort to help you. But then follow their digital fingerprints beyond their answers. If you can determine what other sites they are using from comments, shared links on profiles, Facebook likes, etc., you will develop a more precise way to understand your clients. So the survey acts as a starting point for deeper research.Then you can take this newly found information and determine key measuring points to add to your customer profile.
Smallbizlady: How do you create a customer profiles?
Howard Yermish: Start by really looking at your customers, as many as you can. Group them as many different ways: by product/service line, by revenue, by profitability, by friendliness and any other way you can think. Trends will emerge and you will find that there are certain data points that could be tracked. For example, I’ve looked at my own best clients and learned specific things that I can measure during the sales process that very reliably predict profitability of the project. That data will inspire who you follow on Twitter, how you comment on blogs, which articles you share and everything beyond.
Smallbizlady: Compared to traditional CRM, Social CRM seems very nebulous, very unfocused. Should we stick to more traditional CRM efforts?
Howard Yermish: Traditional CRM solutions were about providing very defined channels and processes for customers. There has been a shift of power from the business to the customer. Customers now make the rules and define the communication channels. Customers can connect with each other with or without your help. Your business should choose which channels make the most sense. Trying to do everything might be an impossible task.
So if you provide appropriate communication channels that resonate with your customers, you are able to focus your efforts and define your processes. You might cast a wide net for your listening efforts, specifically to catch the anomalies. You can then focus the efforts on a couple of specific outlets, like web-based forums, or Twitter, or Facebook chat, or comments on your blog.
Smallbizlady:What problems do you see with current Social CRM tools?
Howard Yermish: The current crop of tools helps collect and respond to Internet based activity. With sentiment analysis, some tools are attempting to determine whether comments and conversations are positive or negative. Unfortunately, the tools within reach of small businesses don’t offer an all-encompassing master view of every online activity and response. This is to be expected since CRM should look different from one business to another. Tools like Salesforce.com or 37signals Highrise can be very powerful if the business is tracking relevant information that they have learned from their customer profiles.
My hope is that the tools will evolve to allow businesses to spot customer trends so a business can be more proactive with its customers in ways that make businesses more unique. Just imagine taking the “Long Tail” approach to your customer segments. When the CRM tools help a business spot a particular niche in its customer base, really interesting product or service innovation can happen.
Smallbizlady: If a business doesn’t have any “listening devices” setup, where should one start?
Howard Yermish: Start with Google Alerts for your business name, personal name, brand, product, keywords, competitors, etc. you are missing out on a great information source. Rather than getting continual email messages, I prefer to setup the alerts as RSS feeds and then subscribe in my newsreader. Google Alerts aren’t quite real-time data, but it is pretty close and you cannot beat the price. (Free)
Smallbizlady: Are there tools that will work with my email correspondence?
Howard Yermish: Personally, I use a tool called Rapportive — http://rapportive.com/ — with my Google Apps email account. Rapportive plugs into your Gmail or Google Apps email account and shows related social profiles and activity for people that send you email. I like this approach because it allows me to connect with my customers, partners, vendors and such on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or YouTube. Before inviting them to connect, Rapportivelinks me to their social network profiles to see if it makes sense to connect. It is a lightweight approach to Social CRM that you can do without any thought or planning.If you are an Outlook person, Xobni — http://www.xobni.com/ — shows you related social profiles, email activity and attachments.
Smallbizlady: Which dashboard tools do you use?
Howard Yermish: I’m currently a fan of Hootsuite — http://www.hootsuite.com/ but I’ve tried others that are similar in features and pricing. MarketMeSuite — looks very interesting as a paid service which I’ve just started trying. If you are a solopreneur, you can probably get by with Tweetdeck— http://www.tweetdeck.com/ — for monitoring Twitter and Facebook.
If you found this interview helpful, join us on Wednesdays 8-9pm ET follow @SmallBizChaton Twitter.
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