Social CRM – What Relationships Should You Care For, And Why?

And you thought *you* had relationship issues by Sanctu on FlickrThere has been a lot of writing lately on the definition of Social CRM. Although neither of the definitions is fully wrong, in my humble opinion, I think they all share one and the same logic of building, understanding, using and/or leveraging a relationship between the (Social) Customer and the company. I believe we need to completely let go of this company centered relationship logic and put Customers’ relationships at the center of our thinking, when we are designing our answer to the Social Customer’s ownership of the conversation.

Most Customers don’t want a relationship with you

Allow me to immediately take that back: Of course one needs to put Customers’ needs at the center of your business strategy. Your Customers value you mostly on the bases of their experiences when using your product or service. That’s because they hired your product or service to do a job for them, that they desire to do. It’s the outcome of the job your Customers want, not the relationship.

Your Customer’s relationships, not yours..

Also from a company’s perspective, a relationship with your Customers is not what you need most. You need most to understand what job it is your Customers are trying to get done. Company’s can do that without any relationship with Customers at all. If the relationship with Customers was required no start-up would be able to make it in this world. Fortunately they do.

Where CRM focused on the Customer – company relationship, a Social CRM strategy will only succeed if it centers around ALL of your Customers’ relationships.

And here’s why:

Because a Customer does not value a relationship with the company, but mostly values the outcome generated from the experience of using your product or service, it should not be difficult to understand that Customers value knowledge or information on how to improve that outcome, over relationships (with the company). Even if the company is involved in providing this knowledge, it is not the interaction or relationship, but the actual knowledge or outcome of the interaction that is of value to your Customer.

We all understand and experience ourselves every day that the Social Customer does not depend on the company for knowledge or information. Moreover Customers turn to peers in their networks to obtain this information, or to rating sites, Customer support communities and what have you. And all this information is valued higher than the information a company provides.

Tap into the knowledge-flow

Hence, in the era of the Social Customer, after understanding your Customers’ needs, you may want to better understand how your Customers leverage ALL their relationships (strong and weak ties) and other ways of tapping into the knowledge-flows that matter to them, to obtain the information they need to increase the value they get from the products and services they use.

Social Customer Relationship Management is not about managing the relationships with your Customers, it is (increasingly) about managing the knowledge-flows through the relationships of your Customers. And yes, you as a company maybe part of this eco-system of your Customers’ relationships. But please, don’t put yourself at the center of it..

14 thoughts on “Social CRM – What Relationships Should You Care For, And Why?

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  3. I really like this idea of knowledge flows within a customer’s network of weak and strong ties. And companies are just a single point within this exchange providing information and resources. I suggest that where companies may be able to assist is capturing these data flows as they relate to specific customer interests, aggregate and make them available as a repository – help with the dissemination of information, so to speak.

    Great post and definitely one I am going to think a bit more about.


    • Thx Jennifer!

      And I think it’s a good idea if companies start seeing themselves as a repository of knowledge/information/resources and their job as helping Customers put it to the best possible use..

      Let me know what you came up with after thinking :)

      Thx again & looking forward to seeing you here again!



  4. Wim, my impression is that you don’t get the point. THE customer does not exist. Our wordl is about mass customisation. Some people are relationship focused, some are price-driven etc etc. I have 4 customers of ABN AMRO in my family at home and each individual has different needs, different ways of communication and different ways of wanting to be approached.

    I keep on having the impression that people that have never dealt with customers in their lives keep on generalising and keep on talking about CRM. It is about managing relationships with customers, supported by IT. So CMR.

    Kind regards,


    • Hello Tony,

      Thx for visiting my blog and taking the time to comment. Before I reply though, I would like to ask you two questions, because I sincerely would like to better understand where you come from:

      1. What leads you believe I think THE Customer exists?
      2. Do you think I have never dealt with Customers? and if so, why?

      Thx for taking the time to answer these. I look forward to answering yours!



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  9. Wim – Thank you for the link to Daniel Kahneman’s TED talk. Got to thinking about the connection between what you said above the Kahneman’s speech about experiences and memory – ie; our memories of experiences are not (always) rationally related to the actual experience, and, therefore, it is of equal importance to understand and address the components that impact both the now (the experience itself), and the future (the memory of the experience).

    Following the thought process out, value to the customer lies in both the experience (at the point of engagement/interaction), in the longer term “life of the product/service” (the future now’s) and in the memories of both the experience at the time and the experiences that occur in the future life of the product/service.

    Which leads us to the question of what can we, as a company do, to help the customer optimize the value they are looking for – ie; what are they looking for, what do they want, what are they trying to achieve, what is the value to them.

    From a Social Business standpoint, it could mean service, knowledge/information, peer group participation, my 15 minutes of fame all the way to altruism (the guy Dell’s help site that spent thousands of hours of his own (unpaid) time helping other Dall owners). In other words, the strategy of listening, service, marketing, whatever, should begin with what would be of value to your customer and what would optimize that value.



  10. Couldn’t agree more, Will.
    The “company-centered” approach of trying to “manage” customers is one of the main reasons for so many CRM failures. Consumers have the power – the power to buy more from you or dump your product/service for someone elses. A consumer-centric approach is about delivering a great customer experience – that’s what we as consumers desire and remember. And yes, understanding the customers’ needs is a key element to a positive exchange of knowledge that results in a positive experience.

    Social CRM is not a new thing – it is just an extension of a consumer-centric approach to the customer relationship. The social web should not and cannot be treated as an isolated thread but must be part of the fabric that weaves your brand to your consumers.


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