Superior customer service is an ethos that pervades the best companies. Everybody who comes into contact with the customer must go that extra mile to make sure customers’ needs come first. Likewise, everyone in the back office must stand ready to swing into action to fulfill orders, resolve technical issues, correct billing anomalies, and generally ensure an all-around great customer experience.

If you’ve been paying attention to business management gurus these past 30 years, you’ve had the foregoing philosophy drummed into your heads. Chances are good that you’ve bought their books, attended their courses, and paid them big bucks to give pep talks at your corporate retreats. Leading management consultants have also brought you up to speed on what exemplar corporate case studies have done to become 100% customer-focused.

In other words, you’re in the choir and would greatly appreciate it if you weren’t being preached at quite so often. If you’re managing a company of any size, what you really want to know is how you can transform your organization into one of these customer-centric juggernauts without the secular equivalent of a religious conversion. Do you really need to subscribe to any particular consultant’s holy writ — or can you simply identify your more customer-focused employees, hold them up as shining examples, and encourage them to share their best practices with colleagues? Can you nurture superior customer service practices that spring organically from your current operations, while at the same time supporting these efforts by encouraging operational personnel to apply the latest information technologies (IT) in new and creative ways?

At Forrester, we refer to these customer-centric exemplars as customer relationship management (CRM) highly empowered and resourceful operatives (HEROes). Essentially, a CRM HERO is anyone who takes the initiative to apply IT innovatively within business processes in order to make the customer happy and grow the relationship. Often a CRM HERO wields some cool, ad hoc blend of their own personal IT assets alongside company-provisioned applications — whatever keeps the customer satisfied.

You can read our case study research to see these principles in practice, but what you really want to know is how you can find and nurture CRM HEROes within your own organizations. It’s often easier said than done: these people may be hiding under the proverbial bushel basket. You may find it difficult to systematically scout for fresh CRM HEROes across your organization and customer community, given that many people prefer to provide outstanding support without calling undue attention to themselves. It’s not always evident who these people are, unless they’ve had the good fortune of being recognized formally for their innovative IT-based approaches. What about all the unsung CRM HEROes in the call center who may be, say, using their personal iPhones on their own time to stay in touch with customers who are having a stubborn issue that falls outside work hours? What about the self-appointed expert in the blogosphere who handles many mundane customer inquiries about your solutions, partly to promote his consulting business, thereby taking the load off your marketing, sales, and service teams?

You can search for CRM HEROes in several ways. In each of the following approaches, you can apply various levels of analytics to look for telltale signs of the requisite expertise, influence, and technical innovation: 

  • Administer structured surveys: On a periodic outreach basis or through a continual online portal-based form, you can survey for success stories of innovative, grassroots deployment of groundswell technologies. However, don’t expect HEROes — people inclined to go that extra mile — to nominate themselves. They may wield their expertise, influence, and technical skills with self-effacing humility. Instead, you may need to rely on customers, colleagues, managers, and others to testify on their behalf. You’ll need to do due diligence on these nominations to determine whether the lauded individuals did something particularly imaginative with various and sundry IT resources. Through that sort of case-based analysis, you can reduce these nominations to a manageable few candidates for HERO status.
  • Conduct field observation: Often, there is no substitute for observing how your service, sales, and other-facing teams actually do their jobs. To the extent that some people incorporate a wider range of social media, mobile devices, and other advanced technologies in their daily jobs, it may indicate a stronger commitment to connecting to customers on many levels. Of course, you should do correlation analysis to see if those field observations jive with hard numbers on how well those people are doing their core jobs, as measured through customer satisfaction, renewal, upsell, and other key business metrics. A HERO is not somebody who plays with technology for its own sake, but to satisfy customers in ways that are either unprecedented or depart from standard operating procedures.
  • Search and mine for influence and expertise: To the extent that someone is regarded as a go-to person, exhibits considerable influence, and shares deep expertise in customer communities, they are likely to be a HERO. A great place to start in searching for potential HEROes is in the customer communities they serve, or in which they are key participants. One of the hallmarks of a recognized go-to person is that they tend to have many followers, especially as their reputation spreads through the virtual equivalent of word of mouth. Search engines are a good tool for gauging how much content people publish on various topics and how often those people are cited by others, both inside and outside your company. You can also analyze people’s influence and expertise through various knowledge management tools — such as Autonomy Collaboration and Expertise Networks — that measure, rate, and rank their level of participation in company email, bulletin boards, and other content-sharing environments. And you can also apply advanced analytics approaches — such as social network analysis — that use statistical graph analysis in the search for complex patterns of influence and expertise.

You can even use these approaches to search for potential CRM HEROes in your extended customer communities so that you can incentivize and encourage them to become your de facto brand ambassadors in social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

None of these approaches, by itself, is a surefire method of finding internal or external CRM HEROes. But they should all be employed to narrow down the list of people who have the motivation, creativity, and influence necessary to become CRM HEROes. It’s up to your organization to give them the recognition and encouragement needed to realize their potential.