Testing the new rules of relationship management

Social CRM: The New Rules of Relationship ManagementView more documents from Jeremiah Owyang.Last week the world and his Twitter dog went nuts over this Altimeter report.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

View more documents from Jeremiah Owyang.

Last week the world and his Twitter dog went nuts over this Altimeter report. (See above)

There's much to like about the approach and thinking that went into its compilation. It is always good to see an industry analyst organization openly consulting among others who are widely regarded as knowledgeable. But...sometimes even the most well meaning analysts over reach.

  1. The report does not provide concrete, referenced examples of the 18 use cases in action. Apart from Comcast I could not find a single named customer example. I did see un-named references in some places but not consistently throughout. Does that make it more theory than reality? Given that Altimeter has both buy and sell side customers in its portfolio, it would have helped to name at least some of those participating in the research and/or referenced those notified by others with whom they collaborated. As it stands, the research is incomplete on an important detail. I will caveat that by acknowledging that customers are often shy of being identified but that rarely stops vendors from rolling those customers out into open forums.
  2. The report focuses on named influencers and vendors. That invariably means parsing what vendors are delivering but not necessarily what customers need. You can argue that vendors know best based on what they're delivering. I won't take huge issue with that. Without more detailed customer stories that back up the assertions, credibility is dented.
  3. I have a bee in my bonnet about case studies to back assertions. Theory, hype and marketing of ideas all have their place but I want meat on my bones, not scraps. Altimeter says it conducted more than 100 interviews with organizations working on Social CRM projects. If that's the case then why can't we have more than one name?

Am I nit picking? I don't think so. Both Jeremiah Owyang and Ray Wang are people I know very well and absolutely respect in their areas of expertise. Heck - Ray and I collaborate on a bunch of stuff over here. In the past he's asked me to critique research and I have been happy to oblige. That doesn't mean they get a free pass anymore than I'd expect them to keep quiet when I get it wrong or miss out important details. <Caveat: the report is forward thinking but with backwards facing examples. It seems therefore to be looking backwards as a way of providing learnings into the future. That's not a bad idea. But then are any examples credible?

In the post Jeremiah Owyang wrote to illustrate the report he said:

For companies, real time is not fast enough. Companies need to be able to anticipate what customers are going to say and do, in order to keep up. Although Motrin responded to angry mom’s within 24 hours –it was too slow.

Was it? And if it was then what was the economic impact of Johnson and Johnson's alleged tardiness? This is where I start to run into larger problems.

The notion of real-time has become conflated to imply 'immediate.' That may be true for Wall Street traders but it is absolutely not the case for pretty much anything else, with the possible exception of a nuclear bomb being dropped unexpectedly. Even then we get a warning - right?

What we should be talking about is real-time AS right time. When an organization has a service or PR problem on its hands then that might be 24 hours. It might be more or less, depending on the circumstances. Simply saying it didn't react fast enough ignores a multitude of potential problems that no commercial organization is going to ignore.

What about the economic impact? The implication from much of what is said around Social CRM goes something like this: unless you follow this path, you're screwed or at best will experience a bottom line earnings deflection. Back to the Motrin example.

I've dug through Johnson & Johnson's quarterly earnings statements both before and after the time of the Motrin incident. I can find no evidence that the Motrin affair had any perceptible impact on the company. Nada, zero, nothing. There is no mention of it. If there had been any material impact then J&J would have been obliged to disclose under SEC rules.

I have done a number of Google searches on various combinations of 'Motrin, earnings, sales, Twitter.' Again, there is no evidence of any impact. Instead, that search term brings up a recall story that is unrelated to the original Motrin Mum's advertising complaint. On that basis, you could argue that Jeremiah is blowing smoke up someone's tailpipe with the same degree of credibility to which he ascribes his real-time, sub-24 hour demand for action.

I am not for one minute advocating that organizations turn a blind eye to such issues. The (in)famous Dell Hell story is a case study that should be on every customer relationship 101 teaching course. But it is only an example of what MIGHT happen and not what routinely occurs. It is not just a question of facts at the time but also about the actions of those who are aggrieved and their ability to foghorn the story. In the Dell Hell case, journalist Jeff Jarvis had the perfect stage from which to bellow his concerns. It was hardly something Dell could ignore, even though they made many errors along the way before finally caving in.

In more recent times, I'd argue that SAP's backing off from what seemed an inviolate position on maintenance was not as a result of single customers or even power groups being publicly critical. Instead, I believe history will show that the combination of many events over an 18 month period served to put SAP into a position where it had little choice. That is as much real time as the 24 hours Jeremiah eschews. Why? Because organizations act when they have to, not when they are dictated to by others. They most certainly do not engage in knee jerk reactions without compounding the problems they're seeking to resolve.

You can argue that J&J's handling of the Motrin Mum's had no apparent impact because the company DID what was right even if the timing was deemed 'off.' We may never know.

Regardless of the truth (about which we may never know) I do not subscribe to the generalized view that speed is everything. At least not today or without a raft of similar case examples that dissect and analyze the consequence of action sequences. It's not contextually sound as an argument with which to propagate an otherwise sensible theory of communication.

If I've missed something fundamental here - please enlighten me.

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