Why British English is the language of Social CRM

By Richard Hughes on August 08, 2011

They say French is the language of love. Although, apparently the French say that Italian is the language of love. Anyway, wherever you come from it’s unlikely that you’ll consider British English to be the language of love. But British English is the language of Social CRM. This may take some explaining…

As a lingustically pedantic British employee of an American company for the last 13 years, I have had plenty of opportunity to observe the differences between British and American English. Yes, everyone knows about petrol vs gas, lift vs elevator, biscuit vs cookie, etc, but I am still constantly encountering other, more subtle differences, such as the American abbreviation of Mister being “Mr.” not “Mr”. And one of the differences that has fascinated me most is formal and notional agreement.

I was once criticized for writing “BroadVision are …” in a blog post. American English demands “BroadVision is …”, because BroadVision is a corporate entity and therefore requires a singular verb. But to me, BroadVision is also a collection of people, and therefore it was far more natural to use a plural verb.

British English allows this “according to whether the emphasis is on the body as a whole or on the individual members respectively”. The Wikipedia article has a great example of this, from Elvis Costello’s Oliver’s Army:

Oliver’s Army is here to stay
Oliver’s Army are on their way

To a British English speaker, that’s perfectly natural. The first line refers to the army as a single entity, the second refers to the people in the army.

That’s why it acceptable for me write “BroadVision is more than just a corporate entity; it is a collection of people. And BroadVision are committed to making our customers successful”.

But what’s this got to do with Social CRM?

Recent research from Altimeter Group shows that, on average, companies have a staggering 178 social media ids. In a subsequent discussion on Google+, Jeremiah confirmed that these are just official company ids, not people who participate in social networks as themselves on behalf of the company. In the same discussion, Frank Eliason noted:

I have the belief that the long term strategies do not reside in these branded accounts, but rather with the employees themselves.

I believe that branded accounts will remain important for marketing, but as Frank implies, customer service and social CRM is much better suited to conversations between real people. And that’s hard to do through a faceless corporate identity; it’s rather inaccurate to describe that sort of interaction as “social”.

I once discussed social CRM with an insurance company who were considering getting their personal advisors (i.e. salespeople) to become friends on Facebook with their customers. I always felt this was a very foolish idea that customers would hate. But that doesn’t mean customers don’t want to interact with a real person. It would be wrong for the nature of the customer service relationship to be dictated by Facebook’s (notoriously simplistic) vision of friendship.

This is one of the reasons Clearvale is better suited to customer service than Facebook is; it enables a professional connection between a customer and a supplier customer service agent without granting each other access to photos of their respective children, etc. For the vision of Social CRM to become a reality, this type of relationship is essential, and it will lead to customers seeing suppliers as a plural collection of people they can talk to, not a singular corporate entity. And that’s why British English is the language of Social CRM – because it allows us to refer to companies in this way.