Why Chatter has changed the world

When Salesforce first announced their Chatter enterprise social media tool, I was skeptical that it would really bring any real benefit to the enterprise.  In my experience, and that of many of my clients, enterprise social tools tend to be Facebook clones that don’t get a lot of use.  In fact, last year I wrote that we just don’t understand enterprise social media for the following reasons:

It causes information overload
We need to actively filter our feeds, which becomes laborious
Disconnection from workflows creates more silos

It’s fair to say that I wasn’t overly excited, but in fact I have seen Chatter answer my concerns; even its initial skeptics like it.  The company I work for has adopted Chatter internally as part of our Salesforce strategy, as have many of my customers and I want to share my opinions on how it’s really starting to change the business world.

My experience

The key aspect of Chatter’s success in our organisation has been the ability to integrate social tools and the CRM.  You may have previously read my perspectives on building the CRM as a portal into the rest of the enterprise from which you can launch and track processesaccess data and so on; Chatter has become a key part of that concept.

What Chatter does is put a communication and collaboration layer across the entire enterprise; whether you use it from Salesforce, via the Chatter Desktop application or on mobile you have communications with the entire business and critical information on what’s going on at your fingertips.  I have found that it energises users, who find that barriers to communication with remote colleagues are lowered and this makes them more engaged (or perhaps prevents them from becoming disengaged: an interesting chicken-and-egg question).

Chatter seems to have been seen as a cool new way to communicate and using it tends to generate a more positive response than email does.  I believe this is partly due to the feeling of community it creates, especially as questions can be asked to the company as a whole of people in specific interest groups.

The ability to work through Chatter across processes with notifications is especially useful, as this has allowed Chatter to become both a useful user tool and management tool.  Allowing users to join groups with interest in specific sales opportunities, business activities and processes or projects means it’s easy to communicate with others who share interests and follow what’s happening with key projects.  Chatter groups have allowed us to improve:

Sales experience: Chatter enables sales people across the company’s geographies to share experience on similar opportunities, whether it’s similar customers, competitors, or technologies; as well as easily bringing expert opinion to bear on challenges in real time
Marketing campaigns: enabling marketers to share their best practices, materials they have created to support particular opportunities
Management is able to easily follow key activities and head off small challenges before they become major problems, as well as being able to more efficiently escalate problems and acquire resources as necessary
Business processes: for example we no longer need a person in Headquarters endlessly being asked for case studies (like many technology companies we have a very diverse client base across multiple industries and ecosystems; prospective customers often want to know that we have experience and expertise in handling their industry-specific systems), as Chatter allows anyone looking for case studies to ask the company directly, and for those with them to respond.

With integration it also allows users to get information from systems necessarily having licences to access the systems, such as being able to retrieve ERP information relating to a customer and present it in Chatter or the CRM record in real-time.  Chatter can also be accessed by any user for free without needing a CRM account, which means it is not a siloed enterprise social tool.

My customers’ experiences

Some of my customers have also found that using Chatter has enabled them to improve business processes.

An automotive customer has linked its dealerships using Chatter.  People in each dealership can contact the entire dealer network and use this to share advice on demand generation, information on parts and servicing knowledge, as well as insight into what customers are interested in.  A different customer discovered a product issue quickly because support staff were connected, as a result apparently isolated incidents were correlated and investigatedsooner.

Another customer uses Chatter as a management tool, triggering alerts against a set of rules.  This allows managers to monitor sales opportunities that are expected to close in the next month, as well as following up on unresolved support calls.  They also use it from a user perspective for collaboration on customer proposals.  This used to be a slow process handled via email but with Chatter they find that sales, technical, commercial and marketing people are collaborating in near-real-time.

A further customer has found that Chatter is a very useful way of working more closely with their own customers, as well as their channel partners.  They invite their customers to closed Chatter groups (which they can access for free even without Salesforce accounts) where they share meeting agendas and minutes, project plans and reviews.  Chatter allows custom fields like “Project Updates” to be created, which could allow anyone working on the project to post updates about progress or challenges.  This allows the project manager to have an up to date sense of progress and intervene quickly in order to keep the project on schedule.

Meanwhile on the channel side they find that it became easier to coordinate joint activities, work on sales opportunities, share success stories, references and case studies, all of which used to be slower with email.  Chatter also has the potential to work as a corporate directory, presenting not only contact details but also a sense of what people are interested in, working on and through Chatter messages offers a way of getting in touch that tends to have much higher response rate than email.

How Chatter answered my concerns

At the start of this blog I referred to my initial concerns that enterprise social tools typically cause information overload, require laborious filtering of feeds, and create silos by being disconnected from workflows.

Rather than causing information overload, Chatter actually reduces it.  Conversations and groups feel like a natural way of communicating and are less disruptive to your sense of “flow” than email, which often arrives out of context.  Plus, I have yet to receive a spam Chatter message! Perhaps because Chatter is presented as a Salesforce component rather than a standalone social platform, the content posted seems to be unusually focused around work related issues.

Filtering of feeds is also accomplished quite naturally through the sense of conversation: if you have just dipped into a conversation to provide some information and no longer need to be involved, it’s straightforward to simply unsubscribe from it.  As with information overload, whether this remains the case as the tools and their adoption continue remains to be seen.

Most important however is the ability to easily integrate Chatter into the business and its workflows, as this has made it a helpful and natural tool rather than “just another network”. It’s worth mentioning that Chatter isn’t the only tool to offer this capability: for instance Sugar CRM can also be used in this way.


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