Thursday, March 11, 2010

SCRM Tips from the Games Industry

I recently joined Altimeter Group's Jeremiah Owyang's social customer relationship management (SCRM) Google group 'Social CRM Pioneers' to keep tabs on the fledgling market.

SCRM is the combination of the social Web and customer relationship management, or in other words, taking the information people make available through social networks and putting it to good use in business processes. This can be as simple as listening to product improvement suggestions and implementing the best in the development cycle, and as complicated as trying to gauge and manipulate public opinion about a company and its practices.

Of course, all of SCRM depends on people using the right tools for the job, and there are many software companies and consultancies trying to make a name for themselves in the space. (I won't list any here; if interested head over to the group and see who's talking sense). The success of SCRM is dependent on an adaptable corporate culture flexible enough to make use of it, and savvy enough strategically to maintain clear vision and direction without falling victim to the emotion social input can convey.

Having spent time in the games industry, I feel gaming companies and audiences are ahead of the SCRM curve. This makes lessons learned there potentially useful in other markets. Here are some I think apply:

Customers find effective SCRM addictive. A customer who can directly relate their input to a product change becomes more loyal and more possessive of a product. Validation leads them to make an emotional investment in how the product grows. They will return with more suggestions for improvements or changes as they become part of what is built.

Carefully actively listen. Active listening is key. But it's also dangerous. If a company engages in active listening without fully understanding business metrics and product performance, actively listening to your customers can lead to incorrect business decisions. For example, if your product is available in blue and red, and your customers say they prefer blue, but red outsells blue - further investigation must be made before integrating customer preference.

Beware SCRM efficiency. As SCRM matures and is fully integrated into a company's business practices, every sale becomes a relationship sale vs. a pure commodity sell. While the rewards can be greater, the burden of maintaining complex customer relationships also increases. Ultimately, SCRM will become the target of optimization, especially at enterprise levels. Traditionally, when a technology is optimized, it becomes less personal. This is a dangerous contradiction to SCRM, and violates some of the founding principles of 'social'; the personal, friendly, relaxed interactions between people.

Reward customer input. Customers will take advantage of whatever ways you give them to help with the product and practices, provided they get something from the process. 'Something' can be validation gained from seeing a suggestion put to use, or by allowing them to maintain a presence on a corporate platform (such as a discussion forum or facebook page). It can also be a direct reward, such as a product discount or privileged access to information about products.

There's a lot to learn from game company SCRM strategies. Success comes from determining the best methods for collecting, measuring and sharing data and leveraging it to create better customer relationships, products and services. Regardless of the industry, as with any social technology, flexibility and adaptability are necessary corporate traits in order to capitalize on the benefits of effective SCRM.

© Jeremy Buehler and Rogue Tendencies ( 2010.

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