CRM in a Web 2.0 world

It’s a Web 2.0 world, and CRM has to live in it. Originally, CRM was all about centralizing customer information; that is, recording all customer interactions in one place for easy reference. It’s easy to forget how revolutionary that is, but I can remember frustrating phone calls to customer service representatives who clearly did not have access to all my information. This was CRM 1.0 and it gave companies the ability to carry on intelligent conversations with their customers.

Well, now customers want to carry on intelligent conversations with each other as well as with you. And they already are, far from your organization: in forums, on blogs, on product reviews and on wikis. They’re talking about you, to each other.

Feeling jealous? You can talk to them too – and you don’t have to launch some grand initiative to do so. Stephen Wright used to joke, “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.” Well, it’s a Web 2.0 world now, but you don’t have to transform your organization’s entire view of it all at once. You can start by painting your own little corner of it first.

The easiest way to start is with a feedback blog. You may already have blogs where your leaders announce news to prospects and customers. A feedback blog is just a blog where you ask questions of your readers. You can do it out in the open, or you can do it in an area of your Web site where customers are already logging in, such as support, service or resource library. Every few days, ask a question about what customers want, and then stand back and listen to them.

As your blog gets readers, invite them to join a feedback forum, where customers can start their own threads about things they’d like to see. Create just two or three separate forums to start, covering such topics as existing products, new product ideas and services. You’ll be surprised at the positive ideas and constructive criticism that are generated.

Now that you’ve got rich qualitative feedback and more ideas than you can handle, set up a few surveys. Surveys provide a great way to quantify and prioritize. Use the surveys to identify the top projects that you should be working on. Use the surveys to turn that anecdotal information into hard numbers that you can act on.

At any step along the way, interest will begin to die off if you don’t show that you’re actually going to do something with that feedback you’ve gathered. So, it’s good to start small. Ask customers for help with decisions your organization is wrestling with now. Ask them for help with little things at first, then show that you have listened and acted on their feedback before you begin engaging them about long-term product initiatives. They’ll let you know if you’ve gone astray — after all, it’s a Web 2.0 world.

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