During the next two years, 30% of leading companies will extend the goals of their online community activities to the design of enhanced service processes, such as social CRM, according to Gartner.
Social CRM for customer service has the potential to bring new and dynamic methods for improving customer service, and in doing so is creating opportunities for new and existing providers in the customer service and contact centre infrastructure markets.
"Social CRM for customer service has only recently entered into the realm of contact centre infrastructure and customer service software components, where it has been met with significant hype despite a limited number of field deployments," says Drew Kraus, research vice-president at Gartner. "There is strong corporate awareness, including at corporate executive levels, of social networks and their potential impact on corporate brand management and customer service perception.
“We expect the high-profile nature of social networks and social CRM for customer service to rapidly advance adoption from early adopter to mainstream deployments despite the volatile and rapid evolution of social networks in general."
As awareness and use of social networks increases, customer service executives and planners are feeling increasing pressure from corporate executives to articulate a strategy for how this new communication channel will be harnessed so that they don't get left behind.
Most deployments of social CRM are taking place in corporate marketing departments as an exercise in brand management, such as maintaining a presence on Facebook or Twitter. However, savvy customers are learning that the employees that manage interactions across these channels can also provide customer service functions — sometimes with much-faster responsiveness than that provided over formal contact centre channels.
As customer awareness and use of social CRM for marketing as a back door to customer service increases, Gartner believes it will rapidly progress from an exception-handling situation to a process that needs to be standardised to scale to broader use.
Despite these powerful drivers, social CRM for customer service also faces several significant adoption inhibitors. Although there is significant awareness and hype regarding social CRM for customer service among corporate and customer service executives, the lack of broad-scale adoption of the technology makes the business case more theoretical than proven. This has the effect of slowing adoption by mainstream and late adopters who traditionally look for proven technologies and shy away from those perceived as "bleeding edge”.
In addition, social CRM for customer service is still in the early stages of adoption, and as a result the business processes and policies for handling these interactions are still being determined. Many contact centres in mainstream and late-adopter companies struggle for budget and focus their efforts on streamlining their present operations. Adding social CRM for customer service to their operations has the potential to add high-profile uncertainty, and many will hold off on bringing the new technology into their contact centres until optimised processes and policies have been vetted by earlier adopters. Instead, they will opt to allow their marketing departments — which often have access to near-term budget for such investments — to take the lead in handling all social CRM interactions in the interim.
A further barrier to success is the fact that social networks are a rapidly evolving technology space, making it difficult for social CRM solution developers and users to know where to place their bets in terms of creating systems and processes to support those networks. An example is Second Life, which only two years ago drove significant hype as a potential customer service and e-commerce venue, only to slip rapidly to obscurity for all but its most ardent participants. Many contact centres are not equipped or managed to support rapidly changing communication paradigms and are choosing to "wait until the dust settles" before choosing which social networks to support.
"In 2010, only 5% of organisations took advantage of social/collaborative customer action to improve service processes; however, customer demand and heightened business awareness is making this a top issue among customer service managers," says Kraus. "At current trajectories, within five years we expect that community peer-to-peer support projects will supplement or replace Tier 1 contact centre support in more than 40% of top 1 000 companies with a contact centre."