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Should Social CRM be Automated?

Posted by on January 6, 2010

automationBefore the holiday break we started off with a high level introduction to social CRM.  If you haven’t read that post please do so.  Today I want to address the topic of automation.  CRM stands for customer RELATIONSHIP management so does automation really belong in CRM?  Does it kill the whole relationship aspect of CRM?  Brands have a lot of customers online that are having relevant conversations that these brand should be a part of.  However, it becomes more and more difficult for brands to become a part of every single relevant conversation on the web.  So what does a brand do?  Can we rely on people working for a company to respond to every relevant conversation?  How scalable is that solution in the long run?  I pulled the image below from the blog of ScorpfromHell who also has an interesting discussion on social CRM automation.  Take a good look at the image below.


The image is from PeopleBrowsr and shows a type of social CRM automation on Twitter.  Notice that when users mention a particular set of keywords  they are automatically sent a message from Coke.  Does this type of automation destroy the relationship?  One of the things I talked about a while ago was the notion that we are eventually going to get to more companies/brands on twitter (and other social networks) then actual users.  Let’s say that we get most of the airlines on twitter to engage in the conversation.  What happens when people start having a discussion about which airline to fly?  They are going to get bombarded with twitter messages from various airlines stating why the user should fly on their airline.  Companies such as Best Buy and Zappos have a large portion of their staff on social networks, what’s going to happen when lots of companies have most of their staff members interacting with people on social networks?  When we talk about making businesses truly social we oftentimes say we want to have “everyone” using social networks to communicate with customers…do we?  How would you structure something like this?

Look at this from an automation standpoint.  If I’m looking to purchase a laptop and Dell, Toshiba, Acer, Mac, HP, Compaq, Sony, Lenovo, Samsung, and Asus are all automating their social CRM to respond to instances of “buy computer,” “computer shopping,” or something else of that sort; then I’m essentially going to get automated messages from all of these manufacturers.

Brent Leary a CRM industry analyst says:

“In social CRM, automation is how you create content and distribute it as simply and consistently as possible. If you automate content creation and distribution, you should be able to join some really good conversations.”

I was actually going to provide a breakdown for some ways that Social CRM can be handled but just came across Jermiah Owyang’s post which sums everything up quite nicely.  Check out the handy table he created below:

social crm

Personally I think there has to be some automation in the social CRM process.  This makes it more efficient for the company to scale their efforts and hopefully engage with their customers.  The challenge is going to be for brand to not make their customers feel like they are talking to an automated machine.  This is where the actual structural components of social CRM are going to come into play.  Once the automated system identifies the type of relationship it will be able to connect the two humans together.  I’m exploring the organizational and process structure of social CRM with Esteban Kolsky and we should have some interesting ideas on this soon.

I definitely don’t have all the answers, but what do you think?  Should Social CRM be automated?  Why or why not?

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  • scorpfromhell

    Thanks a lot for including me in the conversation Jacob. :) And this is not an automated response either. ;)

    Jacob I agree that there needs to be automation in social CRM. However I would prefer it behind the scenes – for the workflows. All the listening to noise on the social web, trying to convert them into signals using text/opinion mining, parsing these signals into work/tasks & routing them to the appropriate workbaskets (individual or dept) can all be automated. Using business rules engines or BPM tools these can be implemented so that it would be easy to reconfigure the business rules almost on the fly. :)

    I talk about that in my latest post too:

    Hope to see the output of your work with Esteban pretty soon. Time we pushed the envelop further. ;)

    Thank you for the conversation. :)


    • jacobmorgan

      Glad to know that was not automated! Interesting, so you're saying that the entire communication process between brand and consumer be actual human interaction? How would you make something like that scale? Curious if you have any examples, screenshots, etc of how a company can implement something like this while configuring business rules on the fly. I'm sure it's possible.

      • scorpfromhell

        Thats an interesting question Jacob! #scrm needs this to be answered. ;) Am glad you asked. :)

        I do not have the complete solution to the question of scaling the human conversations, but heres where communities help for the most part & technology (automation) to a lesser extent.

        When the businesses are listening to the conversations on the social web, analyzing them & then acting upon them, the actions might be directed at multiple entities:

        1. Internal to the business – sales, marketing, service and product/service development or R&D; may be other functions too like HR (including recruitment), Legal, etc. – where the actions would predominantly be to improve the existing capabilities, processes &/or offerings. These are typically the actions taken by the management. There is no conversation emanating out of this. But the customer still benefits. Hopefully. ;) There is a possibility that the organization sends our a broadcast or targeted communication, but its not really continuing the conversation.

        2. External to the business – individuals & communities; may be partners & others in the business ecosystem outside the organization – where the actions would be to respond to the conversations &/or initiate new conversations. This might actually happen after actions in “1″ above have happened. But the important aspect here is that the community itself address much of the conversations, once it is built. And am not talking only about conversations that take place on what the academics call “firm hosted online communities (FOC)” – Lithium, Helpstream, etc. Or other such communities like GetSatisfaction, Groups in Facebook, Communities in Orkut, etc. that might / not have been created by the business.

        The communities help the businesses to scale. Businesses can either invest in building these communities or just facilitate the existing ones. Coca cola took over a community of fans on Facebook that was created by fans. The operative word here is “fans”. Call them fans, enthusiasts, loyalists, superusers, what you may. The community helps you in sorting through the noise as well as takes off a heavy load of responding to conversations. Why not have a rule based integration between the forums in the community platform & your customer service/ticketing system? Or with your gated idea management system? Or build KB/self help articles, etc. based on stuff contributed by the community? Automation helps again.

        BTW, building a community with the objective of reducing the efforts/time/money is IMHO a bit limited too. There needs to be a symbiotic relationship, so how the community benefits is something better minds than mine would have to pitch in with. :)

  • patmcgraw

    Hi Jacob,

    Automation is here – the question is how will it evolve over time.

    As Prem mentioned in his earlier post, automation is behind the scenes is extremely valuable. There is just too much 'volume' and automation will help us catch more of it so we can determine if/how to respond.

    But the cold fact is that automation will impact the front end – the question is to what degree will that impact be felt.

    Why? Because of a combination of reasons – a 'perfect storm'.

    First, we just had 18-24 months of layoffs and budget cuts which leaves most Corp Comm departments severely understaffed – so personalizing responses is extremely difficult, if not totally impossible. (Yes, I understand the goal is to have everyone in the organization use social media – but that won't happen in most businesses for a variety of reasons. Some still view participation as unproductive time because [ex] the sales person was hired to sell, not Tweet. Another reason is that it does require training and skill – and not everyone will have access to both.)

    Second, most organizations do not have a 'strategy' so there is a perceived need to respond to everything. At the very least, quantity over quality is more easily measured so when it comes to ROI, performance evaluation will be based on quantity.

    Lastly, there are more conversations.

    So the end result is more things are being said about a business/product with fewer people capable of hearing and personally handling responses within organizations that value responding. This will, unfortunately, take 'conversation' right out of social media and replace it with 1-way broadcasting.

    Hate to be a pessimist but after attending several conferences and watching 'communications experts' walk out of another social media workshop/session with a tired, overwhelmed expression and hearing them moan “I don't have time for this…”, I just have this feeling that if you dangled an affordable automation solution in front of them, it would replace at least 1 or 2 projected new hires in 2010.


    • jacobmorgan

      Automation does need to be there but I think eventually this automation or bot is going to provide a response that is going to be out of context and users will immediately know what's up. Then what do you do? You can't admit fault and then just go back to front end automation again. I think a key solution here is not necessarily what the company or brand does by what the consumer does. Brands to make themselves more accessible and clearly indicate the social channels they belong to. If you visit many fortune 500 sites you can't tell just by looking at them the the companies have a presence on twitter, facebook, linkedin, etc; but they do.

      Definitely think the current economic climate is also going to be an issue at least for the rest of 2010. Employees that have already been active on social networks and have a solid foundation in the space are going to be at an advantage, we've already seen how companies such as Best Buy are making social presence a requirement to work at the company (for a specific role).

      Time is always an issue but to be honest that is what it takes. If you don't have the time to get involved in something then either you don't care or don't see the value for your business. That's a judgment call or perhaps the presenter was weak in presenting his/her case. You can try automation but if it blows up in your face your going to be back to square one, except this time with a damaged reputation.

  • Dan Martell

    Jacob, thanks for the great post.

    I think automating the response is a bit stupid. Its no different then auto posting comments on a blog based on sentiment/keywords .. and that would never be allowed in the blogosphere. No big brand do it on blogs, do they? [I'm assuming not]

    Either way – what I predict (much like sales organization function) is “Social Mention Scoring” that will eventually be routed to a real person. That way, someone with a motivation (perhaps they are compensated for it) will engage and help enhance, fix, or thank the customers for their message.


    • jacobmorgan

      While I'm not sure how many large brands automate I do know that many of them outsource their social media engagement and presence, is there a difference? I suppose with outsourcing you're at least chatting with a human but still not directly with the company.

  • ludoraedts

    Nice one to think about. I have seen many automated e-mail respons services failing, so now we can ad some failing automated SCRM services as well?

    Bu seriously, I think SOCIAL and AUTOMATED are a contradiction.
    Social CRM is about making (real) contact. Automating is about efficiency. Of course it can help your employees and it can help with workflows (complaints have priority over compliments) but the answer should always be given by a human.

    • jacobmorgan

      That's exactly what Prem alluded to above. The automation should be done behind the scenes. I do agree with that, the next question then becomes how does the automated back end work and flow with the manual front end. Something I'm sure I will be exploring with Esteban soon.

  • Chris Butler

    I commented on this and one or two other things about 6 weeks ago

    Please feel free to have a look.


  • Danny Prager

    Hey Jacob,

    Great post. Really like the nature of the discussion as well. I think automation should play a large role in the back-end, utilizing social media monitoring software to automatically flag certain words, phrases, etc. Then it should be a human voice that contacts the user directly.

    This way, we get the best of both worlds–the cost cutting of automation while still retaining the human voice.

    What do you think? Did I over simplify?

    Thanks again for the post.

    • jacobmorgan

      That seems to be the consensus from everyone. Automate the back end and humanize the front end. As I mentioned in one of the above comments, the issue is making the automation work with the human in a scalable efficient way. It's an interesting discussion that I'm going to keep exploring. Hope to hear more from everyone here.

  • bradbrodigan

    Jacob – thought provoking discussion. I tend to think about this in a more traditional way. CRM is just how we interact with customers. The more technology advances the more we can automate some basic functions of customer service. How about a very common example…it used to be every company had a receptionist who would patch you through to the person you wanted to reach. Now most companies use some sort of automated call routing system. This can be helpful in some cases. In my opinion this technology can go too far when it impedes the desired interaction – dont you hate thos voice systems that do everything possible to avoid you talking with someone – ala airline phone systems? I think this is the same concept. Technology can help automate some aspects of CRM but it should not get in the way of building engaging customer relationships. I love technology and feel it can automate some aspects of CRM but only if it helps improve the interaction between customer and company by increasing the speed or providing better answers or more value.

    • jacobmorgan

      Hey Brad, good to see you on here. You are echoing the same sentiments that everyone shares here, which is good :) How would you make these human interactions scale though? Let's say you're a brand like Apple that has hundreds of thousands of daily conversations about your brand and your product online, what resources do you think would be required to make this engagement possible and scalable? I think we all agree that back end automation is important as is the front end humanization, but how does this actually come into practice. Should be an interesting next post!

  • patmcgraw

    Chris, I tried to post this comment on your blog but it didn't seem to work…so here it is, slightly modified for this conversation thread…

    What if, instead of coupons, the automation software sent you a message asking if you would speak with a member of the market research team so your issues could be used to improve the product? Or if it sent you a link to a short survey?

    A more appropriate response might not change your mind about the product, but it does beat getting coupons for products you have expressed displeasure with – because I agree, why do you want 10% off something you won't use?

    And what if the software captured your user name, negative comments and the date so that it could report on the number of times you posted negative comments? Again, just spit-balling here, but lets say you could establish a rule where Negative Comment #1 gets an auto response but certain words or frequency of comments generates a report so there can be human interaction – or the decision could be made to ignore (i.e.) the individual is best ignored?

    Again, I am not a fan of automation – I am just 'typing out loud' in response to some of the comments.


  • darayush

    Great topic and post.
    This is like the dilemma large brands had with their sales and support interactions through Contact Centers a few years back. They were focused on not losing business opportunities and assuming that automating everything was the answer. Ultimately we all saw the results of that, folks that treated your call/interaction entirely through automation/IVR/mechanical voice responses lost out. Those who took a more balanced and contextual approach to automation (especially in interactions) and weighed the cost/benefit fared better. I think the same will apply here.


    Hello, my name is Priscilla. I'm the PeopleBrowsr product manager :)

    Thanks Everyone for the great post and comments.
    We love your feedback and ideas and we are delighted to be in touch with you all.
    Customer feedback is very precious for companies.
    PeopleBrowsr provides tools to listen and interact.

    The “Campaign Builder” tool that you see here is exactly what you guys are talking about: a back end automation of CRM.

    What happens here is that the Brand Manager or Community Manager creates a message that will generally work in response to specific keywords (this is just not to retype the same or very similar tweet several times)

    His copy is not automatically sent to everyone using those keywords, it's only automatically drafted and ready in the reply box to be sent.

    This means that the Brand Manger can tweak the message and personalize it for each user before sending it, depending on the specific tweet he's responding to.

    We use technology to make human work easier and faster and to improve connections in number and quality.

    We also analyze Tweets sentiment:
    A brand manager can get a list of all the positive tweets about his brand and decide which ones he wants to retweet or a list of all the negative feedback and prioritize support.

    We like to build tools that make communication more efficient and we love feedback.
    Very-Very welcome your ideas.


    • jacobmorgan

      Thanks for posting here. Would still love a demo of the product to see what you guys offer if possible.

      Thanks for clarifying how the automation actually works, essentially it's a pre-filled form field that someone can tweak to make custom changes if they need to. However, there is still the manual component that goes into every response correct? Do you think that's still a scalable and efficient solution? Doesn't it just save the campaign manager a few seconds of typing in a message?

      • SHHHE

        Would be delighted to give you a demo.

        The campaign manager can decide if he wants to tweak the messages or just send them, he has granular control and bulk power.

        We also have a very advanced human interface, to select and assign preexisting replies.
        Happy to discuss.

  • Mark McCulloch Success Coach

    Great quality blog both in design and layout.

    I do love the quality of information you provide and if I am honest with you I am learning so much from you.

    Mark McCulloch

  • forexqs

    I would love to read more about this topic.

  • barrydalton

    Hey Jason,
    thanks for the redirect here from SMT. If you'll indulge me, I pasting my comment from there, over here, hopefully to hear some perspective from the awesome commenters above. thx again.

    General consensus here is probably similar to what you're going to find within the broader social consumer community. It's no doubt a quandry for brands. Automation as you speak of is certainly a way to scale. I too believe however, that its a short cut that will backfire. Backfire because what you're describing is marketing 1.0 clashing with web 2.0 (and beyond). Automated messages are nothing more than commercials, regardless of the fact that they are delivered through a social web platform.

    I disagree with Brent and I think he oversimplifies the issue. Taking potentially the path of least resistance. So, what is a brand to do? It requires a lot more effort up front, but the answer lies in reframing the question. The question isn't how do we scale to get infront of as many conversations as we can. and in the process, poteintially alienate our customers. The question is how do we identify, through social networking theory or some other less quant-intensive methods, those influential, advocating, loyal….consumers and focus on having real conversations with them. To me, this approach strikes the balance between scale and maintaining the spirit and intent of the social web.

    I do think the automated response as you described it here has more merit and adds more value in a social support context. So, if your trying to solve customers problems, provide technical support or customer service, as opposed to marketing, then you will need to cast a broader net. So, if your customer is out tweeting looking for your help, you don't leave them hanging. The key here, I think, will be to use that automated process to guide the customer off line resources, if desired. As a contact center guy, this throws a monkey wrench into the strategy that social support will drive down the number of contacts via other, higher cost channels like phone. IMO, if done right, it will have the complete opposite result.

  • social media marketing

    Integrated marketing communication efforts are designed to create a good image for a firm, one that is consistent. Do sites like these fit into such a scheme? Why or why not?

  • mikekypros

    Jacob, good post and good discussion everybody. I can see why companies like Coke would want to use automated responses, because I’m sure a lot of the tweets they get are “I like Coke” or “Pepsi rules”. There is less of a problem giving an impersonal reply to an impersonal statement. When a follower has a more detailed question or reply is when a personal response is necessary. If all a company replies with is automated responses, it does them more harm than good to be involved in social media. People who take the time to ask a question should be given the same respect with a personal response. Automation will cut down on some of the work for whoever is doing the tweeting but a good deal of it will still be there. The people who ask good questions or who share awesome stories about the brand are some of the main reasons a company is involved in social media in the first place.

    Also, when do you think traditional CRMs will incorporate more social features or will they at all?

  • GLComputing

    CRM has long explored the benefits of automation… workflow integration, drip marketing, scripted calls (sales and support).

    Most Social Media users have also utilised some basic automation – RSS feeds to Twitterfeed and Networked Blogs on Facebook or the linking of multiple social media platforms.

    When these two combine for Social CRM, the question is not “should they be automated”, but “what sort of automation is acceptable”

    In a presentation I did a while ago, I recommended that Social Media is about “communication, not presentation” –

    This means that, while bots (and other automation) will have a place for certain tasks as they improve, they could never replace human interaction.

  • GLComputing

    CRM has long explored the benefits of automation… workflow integration, drip marketing, scripted calls (sales and support).

    Most Social Media users have also utilised some basic automation – RSS feeds to Twitterfeed and Networked Blogs on Facebook or the linking of multiple social media platforms.

    When these two combine for Social CRM, the question is not “should they be automated”, but “what sort of automation is acceptable”

    In a presentation I did a while ago, I recommended that Social Media is about “communication, not presentation” –

    This means that, while bots (and other automation) will have a place for certain tasks as they improve, they could never replace human interaction.