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Social Media: Are We Really Listening?

New technologies are not a panacea. Tweets, Facebook friends and online communities will not disguise inferior customer experiences.

I recently attended a panel at an SAP annual conference in Orlando where the subject of social media and Social Client Relationship Management was discussed. The need to engage with customers through the new channels was iterated multiple times. The message was clear -- communication without really listening and responding isn't communication.

Recently I've noticed the proliferation of new Social CRM stacks. For those of you cloud-based thinkers who don't remember what a stack is, it is basically a diagram that illustrates the relationships between different software tools. The latest Social CRM stack describes the relationship between tools designed to listen to customers; software designed to analyze and to decipher the voice of the customer; and reporting tools to deliver the message to the executives who need to act on it. It was a beautiful depiction of how all the tools work together. But...

While studying the social stack I was struck by the fact that it was basically the same stack we use when describing CRM! All that changed were the channels for listening to customers. And then I realized what was wrong --

executives

and

experiences.

In the old days of pre-social media (can you believe we survived those dark ages), companies listened to customers through surveys, focus groups, customer service lines, faxes and letters. Listening to customers was not the issue; it was about acting on the information provided through these

old-fashioned

channels. Then as now, some executives ignored or paid little attention to the voice of the customer; choosing instead to follow the 'business as usual' principle. Just because a socially and technologically superior method for communication has been developed doesn't mean the modern executive will be a better listener. Better portals don't create better listeners. They should, but they don't. Human nature, after all...

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The next challenge is customer experience. Engaging with customers through social media is critical. But in the absence of an appealing customer experience, no outreach -- old school market research or modern day social media -- will be useful. There must be an appealing substance to the customer experience coupled with meaningful engagement through the new social channels. If one approaches a customer with an inferior experience, the customer will respond negatively.

During the SAP conference, several of the panelists dismissed this issue indicating it would take care of itself. I disagree. New technologies are not a panacea. It really comes down to the customer engagement offered by a company. Tweets, Facebook friends and online communities will not disguise inferior customer experiences. In fact it will only magnify the problem and distribute it to millions of potentially new customers.

The success of Social CRM will be measured not by the tools but by the organizational readiness to act. The customer-centric executive will demonstrate a willingness to listen to and act on information gleaned from the social media portals.

Gartner Group designed the famous hype cycle to illustrate the method in which we approach new technologies. At the core of their concept is the fact that companies tend to embrace new technologies too quickly based on exaggerated promises. Eventually, executives sober up and follow a more realistic approach to embracing these new technologies.

With any new technology, it is never about the bells and whistles or the budget to acquire them. Rather, it is about an organization's readiness to act to maximize the proposed value of the new technology. Otherwise, in this case, the old saying applies beautifully... "A fool with a tool is still a fool."

Lior Arussy

is the president of

Strativity Group

a global customer experience research and consulting firm. He is the author of Customer Experience Strategy ? The Complete Guide from Innovation to Execution.