Social CRM at Whole Foods
by Tony Kontzer
In my post from the first day of The Twitter Conference last week, I mentioned a "social CRM" product called CoTweet that makes it possible for a company to "listen" to posts about its products, react to those posts, and manage those strings. What I didn't mention is that this social CRM thing may hold Twitter's greatest business promise.
Social CRM is just what it sounds like. Rather than relying on software to track customer histories and then put that data in the hands of people who need it, social CRM is about the relationship itself. It's about using the plethora of social media tools to maintain an actual conversation with customers. Twitter is the tool that's most obviously suited for this function.
To that end, it was made abundantly clear to me during my two days at the event that companies are interested in making Twitter a component of their customer service mixes. Actually, it was clear before that, as I've been hired to write a white paper that will provide some clarity on how to bring Twitter into customer service IT environments. (Sorry, can't tell you more--damned NDAs.)
But Twitter will become more than just a component of companies' customer service programs, says Brenda Rothaupt, a professor of computer science and information systems at Santa Monica College who also attended the conference. "They're going to take people off the phones and reassign them to Twitter accounts," Rothaupt (whose Twitter handle is ProfBrendi) told me during a break in the action.
Whole Foods is just a small step from living that prediction. The grocery retailer's social media specialist, Winnie Hsia, was a panelist at the conference, and she shared how the company has established a localized approach to providing customer service via Twitter, identifying an employee at each of its stores to manage a Twitter account and use it to interact with local customers. "They're the faces of the stores anyway, so why not have them be Twitter voices as well?" she asked. When national issues come up, communication is handled with the company's corporate feed.
To be fair, Whole Foods' approach requires little, if anything, from IT. Perhaps the company's technology folks have had to help these employees establish mobile access to their Twitter feeds, or maybe they're integrating those feeds with the CRM system. Hsia didn't provide that kind of detail. But the implications are there: Social CRM via Twitter is an emerging reality that IT should be thinking about, if not charged yet with actually doing anything.
And getting back to this social CRM concept. One of Hsia's co-panelists was Brian Solis, principal of tech PR firm FutureWorks and a powerful social media voice through his PR2.0 blog. Solis made one of the most interesting comments of the conference, suggesting that it may be time to create a "social media style guide," which would help to ensure that social CRM practitioners are polished in using social networking to engage with customers. If such a suggestion isn't an indication that social media are fast becoming an integral part of business communications, then I don't know what is.