The New Tools of CRM

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Life in the fast lane takes on a new meaning when you look at what it now takes for companies to differentiate themselves from competitors. Back in the day, that meant operationalizing the sales, marketing and customer service processes and nailing down the appropriate technologies so that the customers would have the means to purchase or consider purchasing more effectively.



Now, it is the “era of the social customer.” That means new tools not just for the companies but also for the customer.



The mantra in the 21st century is no longer customer relationships — it is customer engagement, which changes the game. It is now represented by the terms you’ve been hearing for months: blogs, podcasts, wikis, user communities, social networks, user-generated content, viral marketing and transparency or authenticity.



“FastLane” is a popular blog run by Bob Lutz, General Motors vice chairman, and it is one of the blogs that pioneered the transformation of the business environment.



What customers are looking for in this era of engagement is a company that doesn’t just sell it products and services but provides them with a set of aggregate services, products, experiences and tools that allow them to personalize their own engagement with that company.



To the extent this is done, customers become advocates for the company’s environment. That means the purchase decisions aren’t being made on just the utilitarian values of product quality and price but also in regard to how well customers like the company.



It’s the reason savvy companies such as T-shirt maker Threadless focus not on having a good shopping cart on an e-commerce site but on having social networking tools that allow uploads of photos and comments.



The community tools on provide forums for conversations among the 400,000 community members, as well as blogs and videos to personalize customers’ and T-shirt designers’ experiences.



With the help of contests, the T-shirts are designed by the community, promoted by the community, commented on by the community, voted on by the community and purchased by the community.



In other words, the core competency of the company is community building, and it has the tools to build the community.



The tools for collaboration and engagement are becoming increasingly prevalent, even those beyond the social networks and the user communities. There are now 71 million blogs that are updated regularly. Every second, 8,000 entries are created.



But there are more things out there — 20 million podcasts that have broadcast 266 million episodes, as the ability to express yourself with audio and video becomes increasingly easy.



So, what are the reasons for this explosion and its impact on customer-relationship management (CRM)?



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