As the year comes to a close, it’s good to put a wrap on it by reviewing all the shifts — both subtle and seismic — that have rocked the world of enterprise architecture (EA). I really enjoyed Gene Leganza’s recent look back — and look ahead — on the top 15 EA technology trends, and not just because he incorporated findings from my recent Empowered reports on social network analysis and analytics-driven engagement in multichannel customer relationship management (CRM).

You can read those Empowered reports to get a deep dive on how those trends evolved in 2010 and what we see on the horizon for 2011 and beyond. Fundamentally, Forrester considers deep customer engagement through social media as a hallmark of the leading-edge customer service operation. A growing range of companies have established social-media-based customer communities for service and support, involving various blends of social media, blogging, and other approaches.

Service and support are exquisitely social activities, though they may often be delivered through a single phone call into a help desk where the person on the other end may be less than sociable. A big factor in customer loyalty, retention, and satisfaction centers on the quality of ongoing conversations that we have with customer service representatives, salespeople, technical support, billing, and other human beings — including other customers — in an enterprise's extended community. Just as important, you need to find that support in the nick of time so that you can implement preventive or corrective measures on some malfunctioning product before it fails altogether.

As Bill Band and I pointed out in the Forrester Wave™ For CRM Customer Service Solutions, businesses are integrating external customer communities with their internal business apps. Businesses are building or connecting with customer communities to gain better insights into customer behaviors and to monitor reactions to business actions. Organizations can use external customer communities to support market research and product development, accelerate distribution of marketing messages, provide deeper insights about individuals and accounts for sales, and promote customer self-service to drive down support costs. Over the next several years, Forrester expects a shift from standalone communities to external socials integrated with CRM systems.

Nuanced conversation management in all its manifestations is the key to business success in the age of social CRM. In 2011, we expect enterprises to integrate the social channel deeply into their multichannel CRM initiatives and to effectively outsource many technical help functions to empowered (and, hopefully, incentivized) super-customers. Customers feel the nuances of each other’s pain more acutely than almost any service rep can possibly pretend to. Just as important, longtime, passionate customers are often much better informed than somebody hired off the street and rushed through basic product-support training.

In 2011, we expect CRM professionals to bring greater coherence around their efforts to build a fully social-based conversation-driven architecture. In this strategy, your enterprise will implement a social CRM infrastructure that automatically monitors, analyzes, correlates, and participates in various internal and external conversations, including external socials such as Twitter and Facebook. This vision points to an event-driven CRM environment, as conversations themselves become a sort of complex event that includes lower-level events such as tweets, posts, status updates, instant messages, and the like. Every new contribution to never-ending conversations will be published instantaneously to all engaged and interested parties so that your customers can get immediate feedback, guidance, and resolution from the best minds in your B2C/C2C/B2B community.

The capstone on this strategy will be a seamless all-encompassing social network analysis capability that continually crawls the community for influence and expertise on all topics of relevance to your customers. It’s never enough to have smart, passionate people sharing their deep knowledge. Your CRM organization, and the committed super-customers that you engage within it, must continually rediscover who is “out there” and what they know, especially as new sources of expertise appear on the social and old sources become inactive or irrelevant

The “game” in CRM is bonding — in other words, acquiring, sustaining, and growing customer relationships. You can change it for long-term advantage if you leverage customer communities to strengthen those bonds.