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Archive for the ‘customer experience’ Category

I  first came across the concept of Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) in a new chapter by Doc Searls for the 10th Anniversary Edition of the Cluetrain manifesto.  Meeting Doc Searls recently and then attending the London VRMHub meetup has given me a better idea of what is happening in the VRM space.  Having worked in the CRM space for many years the idea of VRM seemed very radical but i knew it made sense.  The essence of VRM is really around individuals having control of their own personal data and their relationships with organisations and how they interact with them.  Today each company a person interacts with maintains their own separate information that is often hard to access externally.  Moving house highlights the problem of just how many companies you need to tell to change their data about you.   So with VRM an individual should be able to maintain their own personal data store (ie address, contact details, wish lists etc) and decide who and how much of that they share with organisations.  It also includes the idea of people being able to issue a personal RFP for what they want (ie a digital camera with 12megapixels, supporting RAW for a budget of $300) and then allowing companies to respond with their best offers reversing the current model of having to hunt down what you want from sellers.

This is disruptive as it shifts power from the sell side to the demand side.  It’s a kind of revolution waiting to happen.

So it raises a number of questions as follows:-

Why would companies be interested in getting involved ?

Well VRM if done correctly should be able to benefit both demand and sell side.  Allowing people to share information with organisations they trust could result in organisations having a more complete picture of a person not just filtered through their own narrow view.  Sharing a wish list or history of items already purchased from different places should allow companies to present offers that are more aligned to the person’s interest and needs.

The other answer is that people want control of their own data and this demand will increase and ultimately organisations will need to respond and respect how their customers want to interact with them.

Those companies who embrace this first have an opportunity to gain great PR  and a competitive advantage.

What is happening in this space right now ?

So VRM is still quite embryonic at the moment.  A few different projects are underway in different areas.   A good one page overview of what VRM is can be found at http://www.vrmhub.net/vrm-in-a-nutshell/.  The main project site is maintained at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard under the guidance of Doc Searls.

A few of the projects underway include :

  • The MINE project – tools to allow individuals to manage and share through personalised feeds their personal data both identity based and any data the user authors such as photo’s, blogs, videos etc
  • The MINT project – focussing on how to get transactional information from organisations shared using standards such as JSON, XML, CSV, atom etc
  • MyDex – storage of personal data with ability to specify which data is shared with which organisations and notification of changes to certain data
  • PAOGAperson – secured safety deposit box for personal identification data that also enables data to be verified/certified
  • MySortingOffice – relationship specific email addresses with ability to embed selected personal data for sharing with specific organisations or people
  • EmanciPay project – a new model for the media marketplace allowing consumers to choose how to pay and how much they pay on their own terms for content they consume.

    The driving force behind these different initiatives varies from those approaching it from an individual perspective of managing your own data (ie MINE) to those focussed on the relationship between an individual and an organisation (ie MyDex).

    These different projects and approaches also highlight the many forms of different “personal data” that exists.  At a high level it would include all of the following :

    • Identity based data (ie name, address, email, telephone,  NI number, passport number etc) – this type of data is fairly static in nature and can often be subject to validation and verification
    • Transactional data (ie purchases, usage based such as mobile or utility data, banking transactions like direct debits) – this is data held by organisations that provide services that can be bought or consumed (ie Amazon, HSBC etc)
    • Records based data (ie medical records, HR, credit history, electoral records, tax records, student records etc) – stored by organisations
    • Personally authored data (ie blogs, photo’s, wish lists, video’s, favourite links, documents etc) – often stored in a variety of online tools such as WordPress, flickr etc

    How can you get involved ?

    Firstly through education.  There is an opportunity to discuss and engage with organisations about  this new way of doing business and help them understand the opportunity.  Disruptive messages can make a difference.  Here is a good slide deck from Adriana Lukas who is one of the VRM evangelists in the UK and organises the monthly VRMHub in London.

    Secondly by helping think through and contribute to the projects out there.  VRM is still evolving and there are a number of initiatives in progress from open source to commercial solutions addressing different areas of the VRM space.  One area that is still relatively unexplored is that of applications that can enable users to manipulate and get value from their own data once it is under their control.  This could be tools that help visualise data, trend analysis, reporting, sharing of data etc – this could well be where a killer app emerges that helps drive adoption.

    VRM is certainly a disruptive concept and highlights how much of our personal data is out of our control.  With new online tools and services emerging all the time this problem will only increase.  It is certainly a worthy effort that deserves support and has wide ranging implications for how data may be managed in the future.

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    The increasing number of social networks and platforms being used is offering different channels for businesses to engage and interact with their customers throughout the customer lifecycle.  There are also geographic considerations to be taken into account, for example Orkut is extremely popular in South America so is the right network to use when reaching clients in that region.

    The typical customer lifecycle from the perspective of a customer is as follows

    • Awareness / research
    • Purchasing
    • Using product/service
    • Purchase add ons or enhancements (perhaps goes back to first step)
    • Getting help/support

    The awareness/research, purchasing  and support phases are typically where people like to interact with other people to see what decisions and answers they might have – the wisdom of the crowds.  People often steer clear of marketing, adverts or callcentres in these cycles.

    Awareness / research

    People prefer to research by discussing with friends and looking on comparison sites and looking at consumer reviews.   The following are good approaches to engage in this cycle in a non-invasive manner.

    • Provide rich content on community sites focused on relevant subjects/products.  This is effectively content/application syndication.  Providing content / interactive tools (ie questionnaires, calculation tools) is much better received than simply pushing adverts that few people click on.  Optaros has developed a cloud based solution for syndicating this kind of content called OView.
    • A number of businesses are now appointing a community manager role in their organisation to go out to the forums and sites that people are interacting on and join the discussions.  A good example of this is hotels that interact on sites like TripAdvisor by responding to concerns raised and sharing information.  This can also include being active on microblogging services such as Twitter.
    • Equally if people find a product on a site during their research then enabling them to customise/share it with their friends/family on social networks such as Facebook can help spread the word through viral means.   Optaros Labs have done some research in this area with a product called FANS

    Purchasing

    Once people have done all their research and made their decision to purchase they often want to share what they have bought – particularly if it is fashion, style related or heavily customised.  This is a good opportunity to help enable this by allowing info about the purchased item to be shared through social networks directly.  Some good examples of this approach are as follows :

    • Mydeco – allows people to configure and design rooms and then save their configuration, tag and share it
    • Nike – allows custom design of shoes, saving into your own locker and sharing with friends

    Getting help/support

    More and more people want a quick response that solves their issue so Google and social networking sites end up taking precedence over callcentres.  This means businesses have the opportunity to participate and provide dynamic support through channels such as Twitter and Facebook.  Related to this is having rich media freely available such as webinars, podcasts, videocasts, slides and having them tagged and available on sites such as Slideshare, iTunes store, youTube etc.  Equally important is having knowledgeable employees active on the various community sites and contributing through blogs.  Salesforce.com has recently offered Twitter integration into it’s customer service product to help capture and flag relevant discussions taking place.  This can also be taken further with semantic analysis of discussions taking place to try and route it through to revelent people in an organisation.  Other good examples of using Twitter for customer service can be found in this blog posting from last year.

    The real key with all these approaches is recognising the need to go where customers are having conversations and not expect them always to come  to your own site.  By being more open and interacting where people are spending time increases the chance to offer value to customers and offer a more immediate and responsive customer experience.

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