William Band By William Band

A hot topic of debate among customer management thought-leaders right now is the business value of “Social CRM.” My clients want to know how much investment they should make in social computing technologies like: blogs, wikis, forums, customer feedback tools, and customer community platforms. And, they want to know whether and how these new capabilities should be, and can be, integrated with their transactional CRM systems.

In my opinion, there is a lot of hype right now with respect to the business value of the social media and how to leverage this phenomenon to more deeply engage with customers. My own recent survey of 286 companies shows that only 21% currently have established customer communities at present. But, I must admit that the same data also shows that an additional 16% are piloting customer communities, and 26% are interested in implementing them. And, recent research by Forrester’s Natalie Petouhoff on the application of social media to customer service provides evidence of a high ROI.

My colleague, Alex Cullen, just published a report which places this debate in a broader context. The report“The Top 15 Technology Trends That EA Should Watch”, pinpoints that one of the most important technology themes to pay attention to is “social computing in and around the enterprise.” Specifically, he forecasts that customer community platforms will increasingly become integrated with traditional “CRM” applications. This is supported by recent announcements by salesforce.com and SAP CRM with regard to integration with Twitter to enable the monitoring of customer sentiment, and the acquisition of HiveLive, an online community platform, by RightNow. These are examples of early efforts to integrate social computing capabilities with transactional CRM applications in order to extend customer service problem resolution processes into new social media channels.

Businesses are building or connecting with customer communities to gain better insights into customer behaviors and monitor reactions to business actions. Organizations can use customer communities to support market research and product development, accelerate the distribution of marketing messages, provide deeper insights about individuals and accounts for the salesforce, and promote customer self-service to drive down support costs.

Over the next three years I expect a shift from standalone customer communities to communities integrated with enterprise internal systems such as CRM as the quest continues to achieve the holy grail of a “360 degree view” of buyers.