Three years ago social CRM was the future. Now you don’t hear much about it.
It isn’t that social has disappeared from CRM systems; you can still get Twitter integration on most CRM platforms, and LinkedIn data is starting to reappear. There’s just a lot less social CRM now.
What happened was a combination of two factors.
First, and this is what the CEOs at CRM firms only tell you off the record, the dominant social platforms largely boxed out social CRM by changing APIs and limiting access. Facebook shut its door and broke many CRM integrations, and LinkedIn got choosy. The promise of social CRM as a way to automatically collect contact data and communicate on social platforms from within the CRM died a quick death.
There was a more fundamental problem with the first iteration of social CRM, too: It didn’t work in practice.
“The first attempt at adopting the much-heralded new business paradigm we called Social CRM was ill-conceived, with many an invested marketing dollar wasted,” admits Anthony Smith, CEO at CRM maker, Insightly.
The problem, he says, was that technological advancement, no matter how groundbreaking, are not a substitute for the personal touch when it comes to building lifelong customer relationships. Automation is good, but the social CRM automation tried early on was not successful.
So onto round two.
Social media has never been forgotten by CRM developers, but a lighter, more nuanced approach evolved as the challenges of social integration played themselves out.
The first part of that evolution was the death or quiet retirement of the purpose-built social CRM. Facebook and others just don’t allow the original vision that spawned purpose-built social CRM systems. You can develop a lightweight CRM, you can make an all-in-one system, you can build an ecosystem or go heavy on marketing automation, but the options for social CRM at the moment just aren’t compelling enough by themselves to be the foundation for a CRM offering.
“Social has become a channel or a feature inside an overarching CRM initiativeIt is not a standalone-type of CRM. Rather, it has become more seamlessly embedded in how we manage customer-facing processes.”
An example of social CRM as a feature is how many CRMs now allow a Twitter post to be pulled in and automatically turned into a support case. You will use this functionality, but you won’t make it the axis on which your CRM is chosen.
“Social CRM is definitely not dying,” adds Schneider. “It has transformed and merged with CRM more seamlessly.”
Instead of building a platform on it, CRM has evolved so social media is just one of many signals used for building customer profiles. These profiles pull data from sales and marketing interactions, support cases, purchase history, public data, as well as social posts.
“New CRM will understand the nuances of these social signals over time and use these inputs to intelligently build customer profiles that are a truer representation of individual customer preferences,” says Smith at Insightly. “These will in turn inform how businesses should better interact with customers at every stage of the engagement lifecycle.”
The dream of using social data for automated data entry has not died away completely, though, even if the hopes for the marriage between social media and CRM have never quite been realized. CRM systems still try and collect data from social media, but they just can’t rely on it like was promised in the first iteration of social CRM. Now social data augments CRM when available, sitting as a bonus.
It helps that the world’s foremost social network for business is opening back up, too.
“Although we are past the hype cycle for social CRM, there are still important applications,” founder of IT management consultancy, Stradivari. “I think the most significant is Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn. Recruiters have been using LinkedIn for years, and now you are going to see important applications of LinkedIn data in CRM.”
“To avoid antitrust regulations, Microsoft is going to have to make LinkedIn data available, at a price, to other CRM providers,” he notes. “I think in the coming years, you are going to see LinkedIn data routinely worked into CRM processes in many companies.”
With the rise of AI and natural language processing, there’s also an entirely new role for CRM on the social channel: as the backend for chatbots.
Facebook and Silicon Valley are abuzz with plans for those earlier harbingers of artificial intelligence, chatbots. With consumers increasingly using social channels for interaction with brands, chatbots look like a way to serve customers on these channels with something between self-service and live customer support interaction. And for these chatbots to perform their role, they of course will need access to customer data within a company’s CRM.
So a new role for social CRM is serving as the backend for intelligent virtual assistants that more directly interact on social media.
This won’t be the same mistake that social CRM made initially with automation, though; chatbots will be just one customer channel for when interactions are simple.
“The human element remains a fundamental piece for excellent customer experience, as nothing can truly replace the human-to-human interaction “Social CRM has been engulfed in a broader set of CRM capabilities all dependent of giving the customer the choice in how they choose to seek information.”
For simple information, customers might use a chatbot or virtual assistant. For complex interactions, they will engage with actual humans, whether sales staff or a support rep.
Social CRM is evolving but not disappearing completely. Like many hyped technologies, it started with wildly inflated expectations, went through a period of disappointment, and now is reemerging with more modest goals.
CRM makers are hoping that the second time around goes better than the first.