Linkdump: on the breakdown of a social media listening center

Jeremy Owyang, an industry analyst for the Altimeter Group has posted ann interesting breakdown of how companies deal with Social Media Engagment online. Read it here. The post includes a breakdown of the business goals, risks and drivers that apply when one considers to add social media as a customer contact channel.
Jeremy writes:
The purpose of this post is to be an industry reference for this social business use case, please leave comments with further additions.
I’m a firm believer in having social media as an additional channel, but not a channel that deserves dedicated focus. It should be one of the channels you use to engage your customers in conversations. But it should be part of a broader channel mix. The message you use should always be clear and consistent.
As Jeremy writes:
We’re seeing agents at command centers that are focused on dedicated social channels only, that then hand off to other teams. Also, universal agents that understand nuances of all channels are also emerging.  This also spans product coverage as well as regions and languages.
In other words, well worth a read, if your thinking about your social media policy and starting a social media engagement center.
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Increasing vs. embracing complexity

The articles in September’s Harvard Business Review reinforced something that’s been on my mind for quite sometime: we seem to be increasing complexity in today’s enterprise, rather than embrace complexity.

HBR, Embracing complexity, sept 2011

HBR, Embracing complexity, sept 2011

How? By making communication between Business and IT more complex by introducing extra layers. Let’s face it, today’s enterprise can’t function without IT. Sales, Marketing and Customer Service departments rely on CRM applications and information systems to support their daily operations. Most call centers, for instance, can’t function correctly without IT.

Embracing IT

Most of today’s employees are IT savvy and know how applications support their work. The keyword here is support by the way. IT doesn’t do the work for you, it supports it. For some reason however managers and executives within the primary process organisations of today’s enterprise (Sales, Marketing Execs) don’t seem to embrace IT vital to their operation and as a part of their responsibility. To often one hears executives announce that ‘that’s something IT should take care of’ or ‘I don’t understand all these complex systems, don’t ask me what I need, I’ll give you requirements and you’ll give me the perfect system that fits my needs exactly in 6 months.’ Understandably, this leads to increased disappointment when systems are delivered after 6 months, that do not fit requirements.

Adding a new layer is not the solution

Some companies and management theories suggest that Business and IT just don’t understand each other, because IT and business speak a different language.

Business and IT Communication

Business and IT seem to speak different languages

Today’s solution? Adding a separate layer of information management to translate the business process to IT and vice versa. Some companies have added a Business Information Management Department or have introduced information management departments. Other companies have called it Supply and Demand management. Whatever you’ve called it, it is usually an additional layer of communication between business and IT

Increasing complexity by adding a communication layer

Increasing complexity by adding a communication layer

Boom: instantly doubling the amount of interfaces, increasing communication and increasing misunderstanding. Instead of direct communication, two or more communication points are added.

It’s time to face reality

Today’s companies can’t run without IT. Executives and managers outside of the IT department must take control and learn to embrace and understand IT as a vital part of their operations. They need to become more heavily involved in the implementation of new applications and IT systems. They can’t just leave that to IT and expect them to come up with the perfect solution. Let’s face it, us IT guys need to become more business savvy and Business guys need to become more IT savvy. We need to work closely together to ensure efficient operations. Let’s work on understanding each other, instead of hiring a boatload of interpreters to help us talk to each other, leading to miscommunication and loads lost in translation. Let’s embrace complexity and keep talking to each other…especially when it comes to business critical CRM systems.

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Rule based CRM, an architecture: step 1, Information Domains (1)

In a post from July 2011 I wrote about Rule Based CRM. Seperating your ever changing business rules from your CRM system in a seperate rule engine as a means to create more flexibility and better business owner control over CRM systems, Business Rules and a simple, single brain for your Enterprise Applications. Realising a Rule Based System sounds easy enough, a number of challenges exist however in realizing a rule based architecture. This post provides an outline for a rule based CRM architecture.

What is it we want to achieve?

Implementing a rule based CRM application, or any rule based application serves a number of business goals:

1. Centralised, easy to maintain rules. No need for IT to release new software for a rule change.

2. A consistent customer experience, no matter what the channel.

3. Lowering cost of application maintenance and a more rapid response to changes needed by the business. Adapting the speed of IT to the speed of the competitive / customer environment.

The image below is simple enough. We want a single rulebase that we can use to provide rule based reasoning for all our channels and CRM Applications.

Rules at the heart of your CRM Landscape

Rules at the heart of your CRM landscape

The first question that needs to be answered, when defining a rule based CRM architecture is: Where do we store what? What kind of information do we store in each application?

Information types and rule based CRM

The following types on information can be discerned:

Structured data: data that is stored in a database and contains entities with attributes. Structured data is often used to reason over, to use in CRM processes and to deliver products or services. An example of structured data is your customer data: who is he, where does he live and what kind of relationship does he have with you (what does he buy / use).

Customer: John Johnson, 1 Mainstreet, Smallville, USA, 212-555-678.

Contracttype: More Minutes 250.

Question: Bill related service request

Structured data is always stored inside your CRM system (Such as Oracle Siebel CRM, Oracle Fusion CRM or Oracle CRM on Demand) as it is used to deliver products or services and to answer customer related queries. Structured data often poses data quality issues, we therefore want to limit the possibility to store free text in structured data systems.

Unstructured data. Data that is contained in non structured form, such as documents, emails etc, received from your customer and sent to your customer. Non-structured data may contain relevant information, but it’s hard to store this data in a relational database. Typically Unstructured data is used for communication with your customer, research into solutions and as background information. Unstructured data for John can be the e-mails he has sent with questions about his contract renewal. Unstructured data is typically stored in an Enterprise Content Management System (such as Oracle Universal Content Management), where it can be easily retrieved by the CRM system or through searching for information.

– Process and integration streams. Within todays enterprise multiple systems are used to serve customers and provide services or products. These systems are integrated through Enterprise Service Bus or Business Process Management Solutions, to ensure a seamless integration and ease of use for the end user. An example of a BPM process integration stream would be the process with which a CRM system retrieves billing information from your billing system, in this case, Johns’ previous bills and his payment status. BPM applications and integration streams are used to support business process through integrating applications and are mostly functional representations of underlying technical integration processes in a BPM language, such as BPEL. BPM integration streams are stored in BPM solutions, such as Oracle Soa Suite.

– Business rules. The rules that govern how your company operates, such as: all bills must be paid within 30 days, or: an extension on payment by a customer must always be provided by a mid level manager or higher. Business rules can also be complex product structures or order approval processes. Business rules can be simple, or complex rules such as complete contract structures. As outlined in my previous post, business rules govern the way your company does business. Business Rules are stored within a Business Rules Management Solution such as Oracle Policy Automation, or Be Informed Knowledge and Rule Management.

The image below depicts the information types and where they could be placed within a rule based architecture.

Information types and their place within a CRM Architecture

Information types and their place within a CRM Architecture

What’s next?

The next post will describe what the principles are for integrating the different information types and applications used.

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Re: Gartner: CRM, back to 1999?

CRM: Back to 1999? Added my comment to a post by Scott Nelson, VP of CRM research at Gartner. I do believe that the CRM market is kind of like it was in 1999. After the economic downturn companies have been focussing on operational excellence (whereas governments have been focussing on Citizen Relationship management and are now starting to focus on operational excellence). Now that part of the economy is starting to improve it’s time for companies to reshift their focus to revenue enhancement and the customer!

The full text of my comment is:


I agree with Esteban, what I see here in Europe is that most large enterprises have been focussing on Operational Excellence for the last two years, trying to make their way through the economic downturn whereas the public sector in Europe has been spending heavily in CRM and becoming citizen centric. This is something I’ve seen quite a bit in the Financial Services sector, where companies have spent a lot of time and money on reorganizing, consolidating and restructuring to prevent negative effects from the debt crisis. Now the time has come to rediscover focussing on the customer and coming to terms with the innovations in the CRM space over the past couple of year and focus on creating competitive advantage by offering a better customer experience. Funds are still limited however, so creating a business case is key. Creating a business case is the solution to making sure they get a bigger bang for their buck and focussing your limited resources where it counts. I believe we’ll see spending on CRM and customer focussed initiatives move from the European Public Sector towards commercial enterprises, starting with the Financial Services Industry, moving on through Telco’s, Pharmaceuticals, the manufacturing industry and then on to retail. One of the biggest trends in these customer focussed initiatives will be less traditional software, more SaaS and the advent of business rule engines and flexible, business rule driven CRM solutions where the business owner is in control (instead of the IT guys).

Be sure to put your two cents in as well!

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CRM innovation: Rule Based CRM is the way of the future!

Rules govern our daily operations

Rules govern our life, whether it’s your private or professional life. Most things you do are tied to a set of rules and regulations, such as creating a quote for a customer or driving your car to work (be careful, don’t run a red light or speed!). The rules we use in our daily professional lives are often hard coded in different applications or not made explicit at all and only reside in our own heads. Hardcoded and implicit rules lead to inflexibility and a high dependency on key individuals (Ask Joe, he knows which parts / products will work together by heart). With the fast paced, ever changing world of today we can no longer rely on changes to rules hard coded in applications that take months to deploy to a production environment or require software engineers to carefully orchestrate and coordinate a change to 15 systems at once.

Rules in applications

Let’s take a look at the history of business rules and IT. We’ve had a couple of ways in which we dealt with rules: No rules, IT rules and Business Rules.

No rules: It al started without rules, it’s damn hard to apply a business rule from a piece of paper to a set of data inside an application or information on another piece of paper. The simpelest solution for that problem was a form. But even after the introduction of the computer rules resided in the brain of the end user, relying on the fact that the user knew that product Y and service X could not be combined. No rules inside applications meant that end users had to go through a rigourous training, sometimes being guided for weeks by a more experienced colleague and even after training mistakes would be frequent, several manual checks were built into the process to prevent mistakes from occurring. Unfortunately mistakes lead to unhappy customers (You’ve screwed up my bill once again, can’t you do anything right?) and inefficiency within the whole organization.

IT Rules: time to reduce the need for manual checks by introducing database driven rules, the wonderful thing about structured data storage is that you can use a relational database to force an end user to fill required fields, use certain relationships (a customer must always have a billing address). Database based rules allow for generic data validation, they are condition based, but the conditions that can be used to enforce a rule are limited to how data is stored in the database. Database rules limit the need for loads of manual checks, but are only enforced for structured data and do not offer enough flexibility to apply all rules that govern your daily operations.

Business rules: Thankfully we’ve found a solution for that: Business rules coded in software. Examples of real world business rules:

  • All quotes over EUR 25.000 must be approved by senior management.
  • Calling plan Super 5000 may not be combined with an iPhone 4.
  • We are legally bound to respond to all applications within 3 months.

And those are just simple examples of business rules. Go find a piece of legislation for your country and try to figure out how that should be applied to you. Business rules are applied to sets of data (customer and order and products) and relationships between these entities. Traditionally we’ve included all these different types of rules inside each of the applications we use to support our daily operations. Business rules often required a bit of translation to code that can be interpreted by software. The actual business rule needed to be translated to code by a developer of a specific application. Often Business Rules need to be coded in a different way for different systems: once for the website, once for the call center application, once for the ERP billing application and again for the ERP logistics application. Each application usually has a slightly different codebase which tends to lead to a slightly different implementation by a developer. Maintaining all these rules in different systems sucks balls and a simple change in business rules takes a long time to apply since it has to be carefully coordinated across different applications and release cycles. Over the past couple of years different vendors have been working on a solution: Business Rule Engines (Yay!)

A simple, single brain for all your apps

Moving rules and regulations to a seperate application is the premise of knowledge and rule management. By creating a single rule ‘brain’ for all your applications you create simplicity and additional flexibility in applying your business rules across your enterprise. No pesky issues with rules that have been implemented slightly differently in different applications, no issues with transferring that order from the Sales System to the Financial System. And best of all, most business rules applications have been designed so that your business analyst can define rules, in either natural language or a graphical user interface of some sort. Creating and modifying a rule is easy as one-two-three and these changes can be made available for other systems in a jiffy. So, how is that important you ask? Flexibility, flexibility, flexibility. Using a business rule engine allows you to quickly adapt to the everchanging world that surrounds you and your company, and as an added bonus, it reduces the need for IT engineers to carefully coordinate and orchestrate changes to all your enterprise applications. You should finally be able to accomodate the speed with which rules changes as opposed to the speed with which software can be adapted.

Personification personified

So how does this effect your CRM systems, your marketing, sales and service systems? In CRM flexibility and tailormade solutions are key. Being able to construct complex business rules, that can be applied to a customer query or request for a quote is fantastic. And for governmental institutions being able to completely model a piece of legislation in a Case Management system is great. It’s finally possible to live up to the promise of treating a customer in a personal way, based on all his/her characteristics and the way he or she likes to do business with your company. Imagine the different applications, such as patient planning and diagnosis within the healthcare industry, or easily figuring out how much will be reimbursed for a specific treatment. Claims handling within the insurance industry, simply applying that small print in an ensurance premium to a claim. Flexible and quick product configuration for telco’s, either through self service or by a call center agent. All commercial enterprises uses implicit or explicit rules and knowledge to do their work. It’s time to make the applications of these rules as flexible as possible!

Wait…there’s more to come

In the coming weeks I’ll be posting more about the applications of Rule Engines within the CRM domain and how this solves today’s challenges.

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On Accenture’s 2010 Global Consumer Survey

A tweet alerted me to Accenture’s 2010 Global Consumer Survey Executive Summary.  Well worth a read. An interesting insight into Global Consumer Trends.

Some highlights:

the number of consumers who switched service providers as a result of poor customer service declined in 2010.

Consumers in emerging markets are more inclined to switch providers due to poor service across all industries, especially within the retail and banking industries.

The advent and heightened use of Social Media as a service channel has not helped improve consumers perception of customer service.

satisfaction with customer service has decreased since 2009 in each of 11 characteristics measured

Perhaps this is due to the fact that a significant number of new channels now exist, but aren’t yet used by all companies. New technology does seem to improve the customer service experience somewhat:

More than two thirds (66 percent) say their growing use of technology for customer service through such chan- nels as automated phone attendant, live Internet chats and self-service options on a website has improved the level of service over the past several years.

And the fact that word of mouth / online reputation management is vital to all off todays companies is brought forward in the word of mouth part of Accenture’s research:

Word of mouth remains, however, the source of information respondents use most (76 percent) and consider most important (56 percent) when deciding whether to do business with a service provider.

Word of mouth extends to postings on social media sites, where one in four respondents say they trust the comments about companies and brands posted online by people they know.

Most of the conclusions seem to stress the importance of technology as well as social media in providing excellent customer service. Both are, in my humble opinion, not a way to lead or jump ahead of the pack, but simply a way of providing service that your customers expect from you. In other words, you need to use both to stay on par with your competitors.

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On the “added” value of social networking data

About 10 days ago I had an interesting twitter conversation with @wimrampen and @grahamhill about the added value of collecting loads of data about your brand, your target demographic and your customers on social networks, such as twitter, facebook, friendfeed etc. That conversation, and @martijnlinssen’s excellent blogpost on Social CRM got me thinking, and I’ve decided to write down some of my thoughts in this blogpost.

What is social CRM again?

I asked myself, what added value does collecting data about your brand or customers provide and what user groups of that data could exist within a company? Collecting data just to build a giant datastore seems rather senseless. If we look at the body of work that is currently called social CRM we can clearly identify two valuable applications of Social CRM:

  1. Social Service: using social networks / social media to reach out to customers that have an issue with your product or service. Using social networks provides ease of use to your customers and provides them with yet another way to get their problems resolved quickly when they need support. Provided you monitor social networks and your customers have know how to get in touch with your of course.
  2. Social Sales: Promoting your products online, starting competitions on social networks (facebook / twitter). We have all seen clear examples of succesful social sales campaigns using twitter (like dell, starbucks etc).

I know my explanation of what these two succesful applications are, does not do justice to the value it can deliver to companies and customers alike, but this post is not about explaining social crm and how it can benefit your company. Most social crm initiatives can be divided into the above mentioned categories however.

Social Data Mining / Gathering Social Network Data

Social Data Mining is something that has popped up a bit more recently however. Social Data Mining could be defined as scouring all kinds of social networks and raking in all kinds of data about users that tweet, post or blog about your brand/products or services. The aim is to use all that data to analyse and report on trends, customer segments, and discover possible new markets for your product.Social Data Mining could also be used to gather social network id’s for your customers, much like you collect phone numbers or addresses. Sounds terrific doesn’t it? But to me, this is all a load of bull. The data simply isn’t reliable enough to use for data mining / marketing initiatives.

Getting back to one of my initial questions, who would want to use all this information within your company? Your marketing department? Your product development department? Social Data Mining is usually heralded as a new data stream for your marketing department. Your sales and service departments are probably already happy with Social Sales, Social Service and Reputation Management tools such as Radian6 or Nimble. Let’s look at the challenges associated with using social network data for marketing and segmentation.

The challenges

Besides the obvious privacy challenges, I feel that the two main challenges with social data mining are Identifiability and reliability.

Let’s look at identifiability first. So, you’ve gone ahead and bought some tools to tap into Twitter’s Firehose of tweets. You are filtering everything out based on a couple of intricate algorythms and storing them into a large database for analysis. What kind things do you need to use this data for segmentation for instance? Well, demographic information would be nice: what’s the persons age, is he/she male or female, where is she from etc. How do you figure all that out from ElRioGrande’s tweet that he simply loves to drink coca cola? The answer: you don’t. Most people have an unidentifiable social network profile because the love the anonimity of tweeting about things, without someone finding out who they are. They purposely choose a vague account name and withhold as much personal information as possible. The only provide the information they want to share with the outside world. They are in control. Pretty hard to use that firehose of tweets for segmentation if identifiability is an issue.

One other thing we like about data that we analyse is that it is reliable, we know where it comes from and we’ve identified (there’s that pesky identifiability issue again) a number of characteristics of the person talking about our product or service. I myself would love to work with data that I know is from a customer (past or current). How reliable is LittleStevie13’s tweet about the fact that he hates eating at taco bell? Is stevie actually 13? Might he be a competitor? We simply don’t know. We could use his tweet to contact him to see if we can resolve his issue with taco bell (maybe he would like his taco a bit more spicy) and offer him a free taco, but we can’t rely on it to form a basis for customer segmentation or marketing initiatives.

Now what?

So, in my humble opinion, gathering all kinds of social networking data for data mining and segmentation is a load of crap. Sure, we can use it for reputation management, reaching out for service issues or selling our product, but we simply can’t use it for marketing. Perhaps in the future we will develop tools that allow us to cross reference social networking data with actual customer data to close the identifiability and reliability gap (and start up a whole new discussion about privacy implications of that cross referenced data) but right now I don’t see an added value in social data mining and if there’s a consultant or vendor knocking on your door trying to sell you social data mining tools, tell him your busy figuring out social service and social sales and to come back in about 5 years or so.

Data mining image courtesy of

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