RSS: The Most Effective Way to Connect 1:1 With Customers?

Over the past couple of months, a handful of companies have announced their intentions to use RSS (what is RSS?) technology to more effectively communicate with their customers. 

For example, one such company, Coravue, has announced that their new offering "delivers tailored marketing messages to the desktop."  A much-hyped concept for sure, and a goldmine if it works.  But can RSS help bridge the gap to customers more effectively than existing methods such as email and newsletters, not to mention good old-fashioned direct marketing?

In some cases, the answer is yes.  One particular application that springs to mind is the natural synergy between the timely dissemination of information that RSS enables and the emergence of the on-demand software deployment model.  In the on-demand world, some solution providers choose the model of incremental, ongoing implementation of new functionality in their on-demand systems.  This is great for customers, as new features are being implemented all the time.  But how does a company let all the users of the system know about these new features as they become available?  A vendor-specific RSS feed would allow a solution provider to instantly communicate new features, functionality, and links to documentation to all users as soon as the code is migrated to production.  Massive, timely, laser-focused publishing at zero cost is a good thing.  But couldn’t we do the same thing with email?

Well, sure.  But, in addition to being perfectly targeted, RSS feeds do not have an issue with spam.  Since an RSS feed is, by definition, "opt-in" and the publisher controls the channel of communication, spam is non-existent.  Although there are some companies looking to inject ads into RSS feeds, I have a feeling we’re still a year or two away from widespread implementation of this practice.   

Despite some technical challenges with RSS (e.g. the potential for PointCast-like bandwidth abuse), the most notable challenge right now is visibility of the technology to the end-user. Because of that, I think the solution providers (and information providers, particularly in the form of blogs) are going to be pushing a string for a while.  While the publishing tools make it trivial to publish RSS feeds (see that little "Syndicate this site" link over there?), it is still a bit of an effort to receive RSS feeds.  One needs to get an RSS reader* and configure it.  Until the RSS readers are ubiquitous and the killer app from the customer side is found, the uptake will continue to be mostly limited to early adopters.

Some interesting possibilies here.  Any stories of folks using RSS feeds to connect with customers in this way?

* — SharpReader has a decent RSS reader, and I love the RSS support that is built into Thunderbird, which I encourage everyone to download immediately…as well as Firefox.

Killing Marketing As We Know It

I love how SUN’s President & COO, Jonathan Schwartz, dispenses with the boring, uber-sterile traditional glossy marketing approach and just tells customers what’s going on.

For example, the organization has recently begun selling their systems directly on eBay. Instead of overdone PR, he states what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how it affects their strategy, customers, and partners (and, not incidently, this move also gives them perfect information on the true market price of their systems). Schwartz also uses it as a bully pulpit to raise doubts about SUN’s competitors. He also dimisses a minor confidentiality leak that took place when the marching orders he gave ended up on a t-shirt wearing dog.

What SUN has done goes beyond simply giving their fromage grand a microphone, however. They actually have set up an environment that is is accessible to any Sun employee to write about anything. Sports. Music. One of their bloggers, “Mary,” even states “I use this blog to explicitly and without apology market to you.”

SUN is in the process of killing Marketing as we know it and, in the process, is getting closer to their customers

(thanks to Rick Klau for the lead)

Real Life Example: Using Social Software To Reach Customers

How did this happen? While most commercial businesses are still trying to figure out the basics, a state government agency in Utah has put up a great example of how to use social software (in this case, a blog) to better connect with customers.

This eGovernment site goes into the details about how they are using their weblogs as a customer relationship management tool:

“…we have a group blog that is accessible by PIOs and others from multiple state agencies to generate the news for our State business portal. We have other multi-party blogging ideas in the works.

We may even use blogging as an inexpensive, easier and more effective way to do customer relationship management / contact management for an internal service fund. For example, each customer agency becomes a category in the (internal facing) blog. People post to the blog category any time they have contact with that agency. Managers and CRMs can subscribe in their aggregator to those agencies (categories) that they have an interest in. Add a search engine to the blog for additional power. You have an effective solution in hours or days rather than months.”

Nicely done! Since our friends in Utah are doing so well in this regard, I would suggest setting up an enterprise social networking conference here as soon as a possible.

Biz Blogging Takes Off

A lot of thoughts today on blogging as a way to bring an enterprise and its customers closer together. Building on the internal/external model of blogs, I think that blogs (and all social software) can bridge the gap in four different ways.

1) Enterprise to customers
2) Representative with customers
3) Enterprise with customers
4) Customers with customers, sponsored by the Enterprise

(“to” implies a one-way information flow, “with” implies a conversation)

However, to round out the internal/external way of looking at things, we might want to think about the “external” interactions through the more traditional viewpoints of sales, marketing, and service. Some examples:

Potential Marketing blogs, in addtion to “branding”
– Product direction
– Uses of existing products

– Case studies of existing customers
– Calendar of events

Potential Sales blogs
– 1:1 blogs between representatives and customers/prospects
(question: would you be more likely to interact with a sales rep if he/she had a blog?)

Potential Service (or Support) blogs

– User groups (discussions among users)
– Problem resolution
– Publication of new features / updates

Any others anyone can think of?

From the “timely!” department…as this post was being put together, also saw that there is a new set of thoughts on Creating Customer Evangelists that may merit a deeper look.

(from Fredrik Wackå, via Ross); and,

(from Church of the Customer, via Nova)

Enterprise Social Networking, Blogging Key Customer-Facing Growth Areas

A new report entitled Online Communities in Business contains some great information on how the use of collaboration technologies in business is predicted to evolve over the next 1-to-5 years. Many-2-Many points out that one of the biggest challenges, however, is (still!) measuring ROI; would love comments from anyone who has a novel and/or effective way to do this.

According to the report (pdf here)

“In terms of growth, in the one-year timeframe, teamrooms, weblogs, and social networking show the biggest expected gains”

for customer-oriented and customer-facing collaboration, which covers Customer Care, Marketing and Sales, as well as New Media/Publishing.

UPDATE on the Microsoft CRM debacle: Lead story on CRM Buyer today indicates that Microsoft is starting to contact their CRM customers directly to try and manage the situation.