COVER STORY's Chatter on Social CRM

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor  |  July 01, 2010

Originally appeared in the July 2010 issue of Customer Inter@ction Solutions has become an iconic firm by taking underexploited methods, most significantly cloud computing, marrying them to existing solutions, in its case CRM applications and successfully developing them to meet present and future business needs. The firm is posed to repeat its success in the fast-growing social channel, expanding CRM into social CRM.

This year (News - Alert) is delivering Salesforce Chatter, a social enterprise collaboration solution. Chatter builds on’s existing social solutions, including Salesforce for Twitter, released in September 2009 with the launch of Service Cloud 2 and Salesforce for Facebook (News - Alert) that came out in 2008.

Companies can bring Facebook and Twitter feeds and comment and tweet inside Service Cloud 2 within context of different groups, such as one team on customer service and another on business development. In addition, Chatter also has an API that tap into other web applications where there are conversations happening, such as Expedia (News - Alert) and TripAdvisor so they can be brought into the Service Cloud 2 for engagement and response.

To find out’s take on the social channel and social CRM, Customer Interaction Solutions interviewed Alex Dayon, executive vice president of CRM,

CIS:      Outline the key characteristics of the social channel, how it is similar and different from the other interaction channels

AD:      When your customers encounter a problem with your product or service, what do you think they do? If you guessed that most of them search the Web for a resolution, you’d be right on. Whether it’s an online search, a tweet or a post on a Facebook page, customers are seeking immediate answers, and they’re seeking them in places where your response – or lack thereof – can be either a public success or a public spectacle. In many organizations today their traditional customer service channels are separate from their social channel, a neglected department that may have very little budget or no budget at all. But it doesn’t need to be that way, and in fact it shouldn’t be that way. Your customers today have embraced a world of social, collaborative and real-time information that is available across an ever-growing number of mobile devices. At we call this new mobile, social, and collaborative paradigm “Cloud 2.” 

In the world of Cloud 2, the social channels distinguish themselves from all the rest because your customers’ every interaction is instantly in the public sphere. The clock is ticking the moment that a customer posts about a legitimate issue using social media because that activity is transparent and the community can follow it until the issue is resolved. By fostering and rewarding vibrant communities, companies can help customers share expertise, solve problems faster and accelerate future product innovations.

Initially we’ve seen some companies try to ignore customer service issues that were brewing on social media. That’s no longer an option and companies are starting to understand this. With high profile examples like Greenpeace’s campaign on Facebook against Nestle, we saw Nestle respond swiftly and authentically. That “authenticity” is one of critical elements of a social media strategy for customer service: the truth will be heard.

CIS:      How are customers using the social channel to engage with companies?

AD:      Some of our large banking customers use our Salesforce for Twitter application to activate Twitter as a first-class channel for amazing customer service. Agents can instantly respond to customers’ tweets, they have all the critical customer information available to resolve the customers’ issues in real-time. We also see social media being used by our customers like Starbucks and Crocs Asia where these companies have developed rich vibrant communities that help customers resolve each other’s issues and also let customers propose new ideas they’d like to see implemented. On the Dell customer community, customers can post questions and suggestions to Dell customer service and support and Facebook friends can see these interactions with the Dell community right within the customers’ Facebook wall posts. The viral nature of customer service with social media means word travels fast, so if you’re using a modern customer service solution, your customers should easily be able to find the best answers on any channel.

CIS:      Is the social channel supplementing or supplanting the other channels and if so which ones and why?

AD:      We believe modern customer service is going to mean that all of these channels will have to work seamlessly with your customer service processes. So for example, if a customer tweets a question about pairing their Bluetooth headset with their smart phone, a contact center agent can tweet a response directly with a link to a public knowledge article on a public website that Google (News - Alert) search users can easily find too. We’ve had a huge response to our community and social media capabilities since we introduced them three years ago and companies like Dell, Starbucks and Crocs Asia are all examples of those communities thriving and improving customer satisfaction.

 CIS:         How are companies responding to the advent of the social channel in their CRM strategies such as social CRM? Has this forced them to alter their CRM methods and if so, how?

AD:      For many customers today, their default approach when it comes to seeking customer service is an online search, which may or may not help them find the answers they – or you – want them to find. With Cloud 2, companies are realizing they can meet their customers where they already are. There’s also no “hold music” on Twitter; customers are more in control of their own experience. So not only are companies connecting to their customers on these new channels, but they’re also taking a serious look at how they collaborate internally to provide a cohesive, aligned experience that doesn’t just satisfy the customer, it amazes them. 

 CIS:         What are the challenges that have arisen with incorporating the social channel in customer interactions and with CRM? Some of the issues that have come up social include: (a)        Social media is media (i.e. contact center agents who respond on social sites are acting as PR representatives to a mass, often anonymous audience) and subject to the rules and practices of media – as opposed to one-to-one phone and chat/e-mail interactions.

AD:      As you begin to embrace a channel like Twitter as part of your customer service strategy, think about the tone and style of how you communicate with your customers. It’s important that contact center agents know the voice you want to use as a company, which is why it’s essential to your success to educate agents on the boundaries of what can and cannot be discussed in a public forum due to the sensitivity or privacy of the matter. This is why it’s also critical that your customer service solution can “thread” customer conversations across channels. For example, when a customer tweets a question from Twitter, an agent using Service Cloud can tweet back, and if customer privacy is required, the agent can open a case and continue the handling of the case over e-mail or phone.

(b)        Integrating social media with the other traditional channels

AD:      We see some companies who embark on a social media strategy for customer service by opening a Twitter account and responding to any tweet related to their company or products. The problem with this is that this social media approach is totally disconnected from their core customer service processes. It’s critical that you can interact with the same customer on any channel the customer chooses, even related to the same case. So a customer issue that starts out as a question on Twitter, then transitions to a private e-mail exchange between an agent who resolves the customer issue by sending a knowledge article from the multi-channel knowledge base. Social media needs to blend with your existing customer processes.

CIS:      Discuss the benefits and challenges of using social media as an internal collaborative tool amongst contact center agents and support reps

AD:      Social media sites like Facebook have cracked the collaboration problem. We asked ourselves, “What if enterprise collaboration worked like Facebook, but was internal, private and trusted for business purposes?” That’s why we’ve introduced Salesforce Chatter. In a contact center, agents can use their real-time Chatter feed to stay up to date on what matters to them. They can “follow” things like the latest accounts updates from sales reps, changes to knowledge articles and the top cases they’re working on. The result: customers get better service, management gets visibility and agent efficiency goes through the roof.

CIS:      What are the key emerging best practices and technologies for social media in both interactions and in social CRM?

AD:      Gartner (News - Alert) estimates that by 2013, 65 percent of customer service interactions will be in the cloud – that includes social media, communities, search and self-service. The customer chooses the channel they want to use, not your company. For customer service, the number-one channel isn’t the phone anymore, it’s Google. Next, with a half-billion people on Facebook and more than 75 million on Twitter, any plan for social media and customer service needs to address how all these channels connect with your existing customer service processes. 

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi