Self-service – The value of Social

Stuart Power Mar 2014
Stuart Power, Matrix42

We’ve seen the future of IT service support – and it’s social!

An increasing number of corporate IT departments are evolving from fire-fighting cost centers, into service-delivering profit centers. Perhaps yours is one of them. But although this evolution is significant, it’s not the end of the story. In most cases, a centralized IT service delivery and workspace environment, with all its automation and self-service capabilities, is still run using linear processes and relationships. For example, a user creates a support ticket, and a service desk agent records and directs it to the right team. The team then addresses the issue on a first come, first served basis, and informs the user when it has been resolved. This isn’t really collaborative in the truest sense, and the support function doesn’t really ‘live’ as an ecosystem. For many of today’s employees, especially the ‘digital native’ generation, that means there’s something missing: the social element.

After all, the vast majority of employees use some form of social media in their personal and business lives already. That’s why introducing social ITSM can be the next logical step in creating a user-centric IT environment, after IT service delivery automation and implementing a corporate App Store with user self-service capabilities.

Typical use cases

There are several different ways in which social can be integrated into the ITSM and support processes, including:

Social walls: Users submit an issue to a support wall, just like you find on Twitter and Facebook, and other users with the same problem join the discussion, either to notify support or to provide tips and fixes. In some cases, this means a ticket never needs to be raised, reducing the overall support workload. In others, IT can see in real-time what and where current issues are, and then prioritize and address them more quickly than would otherwise be possible. Not only that, resolved issues can be added to a knowledgebase that improves users’ ability to resolve their IT incidents via self-service. As a result, the service provider (IT department) gets access to the big picture i.e what’s really going on in the organization from a support request perspective at any given moment.

Service desk chat: Chat functionality is integrated with a simplified incident report form that can be completed collaboratively. Users can see if someone is online and available for chat and, if their query has to be put in a queue, they are notified when a service agent is free. Alternatively, if a response takes too long, a standard incident ticket is created automatically.

Interactive incident reporting: A browser-based reporting function lets users create an incident via a mini-form that enables them to quickly capture error logs and screenshots, and submit them to IT with a short description of the issue.

More than just old wine in new bottles?

Of course, introducing social media capabilities does not fundamentally change how tickets are resolved in the back end. We’re not talking about throwing the ITIL baby out with the social bathwater. Nevertheless, using social elements in the ways described above creates a different relationship between users and the IT department. Support becomes faster, more responsive, collaborative and fun. IT becomes more closely integrated with the business, and can be seen more readily as a business enabler. And the user experience is transformed from being static and reactive, to dynamic and proactive.

The benefits outweigh the risks

You could argue that adding a social element to ITSM increases complexity and can reduce transparency, because it can bypass traditional processes and happens so quickly that managers find it hard to keep up with what is happening. Moreover, usage policies must be defined and policed, creating additional workload.

However, the risks of not embracing social within ITSM are significant. Without it, the IT department is likely to be seen as out of touch, especially by the digital native generation, and users are more likely to bypass official communication and support channels as a result. It may also become more difficult to attract and retain the best new talent if your competitors are offering a more socially–enabled working environment. The good news is, you should be able to measure the benefits it delivers quite easily in terms of faster ticket resolution and up to 50% fewer tickets overall.

Five steps to social ITSM success

While on the increase, the use of social media within ITSM is still immature and few best practices exist. At Matrix42, we recommend organizations focus on the following areas to maximize their chances of success.

 

  1. Define your goals: The biggest mistake you can make in social ITSM is to just do it because you think you should. Clear business objectives such as reducing support costs or improving employee retention figures should be the drivers.
  2. Choose your tools: Are you going to create user communities, leverage chat functionality, use existing internal platforms or invest in 3rd-party solutions? You need to find the best fit for your existing investments, ensure ease of integration and maximize process automation.
  3. Integrate your channels: Social media can become an information silo just as easily as any other communication channel. Social ITSM interactions must be easy to track and extract information from, in order to measure success and further support user self-service by adding the details of successfully resolved issues to the support knowledgebase.
  4. Create policies: You need to define the rules about acceptable usage, service levels, compliance and security – collaboration should not be chaotic!
  1. Measure the results. Social ITSM is an investment like any other – you need to be able to prove the business benefits. KPIs like monthly incident ticket creation, speed of incident resolution and user satisfaction indices, are all useful benchmarks.

Conclusion

As the proportion of digital natives in the workforce increases, the introduction of social channels into the IT service support environment will become increasingly essential for maximizing user satisfaction with IT. While new investments will be required, the benefits will outweigh the costs, as long as you use the five steps outlined above to guide the transformation.

This article has been contributed by Stuart Power, UK Sales Manager at Matrix42.

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Social Meet Up: 9th February

drinkOwing to the success of our ad hoc social gatherings in London in 2013, we’re planning a full schedule for 2014! The first of which will take place on Sunday 9th February at 6pm GMTSunday I hear you cry?! You can blame that on our US ITSM friends John Custy and Brian Hollandsworth, as they don’t have any other availability during their visit to the UK and we couldn’t have them leave without a social get together. Actually that is unfair, John had space during the week so just blame Brian!

Full details on location, costs and how to RSVP can be found below. Whether you’re a practitioner, vendor, or consultant we would love to have you come along for some informal networking, putting the ITSM and ITAM world to rights, a few tipples, and generally just a fabulous time.

Also, for anyone who is interested, we will also be arranging an afternoon of sightseeing across London for our dear American friends and anybody and everybody is welcome to come along. Please just let me know when you confirm your place for dinner.

A full schedule of all of our planned socials will be published soon. Apologies to all of our readers outside of the UK, as our sites continue to grow and prosper we hope to be able to arrange similar networking events like this on a more global basis.


WHAT

Informal ITSM and ITAM social gathering

WHERE

Somewhere yummy in London. Exact location TBC.

WHEN

Sunday 9th February from 6pm GMT

COSTS

Cost of your individual meal and drinks will be payable on the night. We recommend budgeting between £20-40 for the evening. Please note that we will not be responsible for the final bill. There is a £10 deposit required per person.

RSVP

Please contact me directly to confirm your attendance. Deposit instructions will then be provided.

CONFIRMED ATTENDEES

Confirmed attendees will be listed here.

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Getting started with social IT (Part 2 of 2)

Following on from Matthew Selheimer’s first installment on social IT, we are pleased to bring you the second and final part of his guide to getting started with social IT

Level 3 Maturity: Social Embedding

The saying, “Context is King!” has never been truer and this is the foundational characteristic for attaining Level 3 social IT maturity; Social Embedding.
This level of social IT maturity is achieved by establishing relevant context for social collaboration through three specific actions:

  1. The creation of a social object model
  2. The construction of a social knowledge management system that is both role-based and user-specific
  3. The enhancement of established IT processes with social collaboration functionality to improve process efficiency and effectiveness

The goal at Level 3 maturity is to leverage social embedding to improve IT key performance indicators (KPIs) such as mean-time-to-restore (MTTR) service or change success rate (additional examples are provided below). It is important that you select KPIs that are most meaningful to your organisation; KPIs that you have already baselined and can use to track progress as you increase your social IT maturity.

While the value of Level 2 maturity can be significant in improving the perception of IT’s responsiveness to users, Level 3 social IT maturity is where the big breakthroughs in IT efficiency and quantifiable business value are created.

Focus on key performance indicators

Focus on the KPIs associated with the processes you are enhancing with social collaboration. An incident management KPI measurement, for example, could be to multiply your current mean-time-to-restore (MTTR) service by your cost per hour of downtime or cost of degraded service per application. This will give you a starting point for benefit projections and value measurement over time.

Focus on the KPIs associated with the processes you are enhancing with social collaboration. This will give you a foundation for benefit projections and value measurement over time.

For change management, you might use the number of outages or service degradations caused by changes and multiply that by your cost per hour of downtime and MTTR to arrive at a true dollars and cents measure that you can use to benchmark social IT impact over time. You might also consider other IT process metrics such as first call resolution rate, percentage of time incidents correctly assigned, change success rates, the percentage of outages caused by changes, the reduced backlog of problems, etc.

The point is to select IT process metrics that are meaningful for your organization and enable you to calculate a quantifiable impact or benefit. Decision makers may be skeptical about the value of social IT, so you will need to make your case that there is real quantifiable benefit to justifying the investment to achieve Level 3 maturity.

Relevant Context and Three Required Actions

Let’s now more fully consider the establishment of relevant context and the three actions characteristic of Level 3 maturity previously described: 1) creation of a social object model, 2) construction of a social knowledge management system, and 3) the enhancement of IT processes with social capabilities. We noted earlier that context is defined in terms of relevance to a specific audience. That audience could be a group of individuals, a role, or even a single individual. The most important thing is that context ensures your audience cares about the information being communicated.

How do you go about ensuring the right context? What is needed is a social foundation that can handle a wide variety of different perspectives based on the roles in IT and their experience. The most effective way to do this is to treat everything managed by IT as a social object.page7image27920 page7image28080

What is meant by a social object? Consider, for example, a Wikipedia entry and how that is kept up-to-date and becomes more complete over time through crowd sourcing of knowledge on the subject. The entry is a page on the Wikipedia website. Now imagine if everything that IT is managing—whether it’s a router, a server, an application, a user, a policy, an incident, a change, etc.—was treated along the same lines as a Wikipedia page. Take that further to assume that all the relationships which existed between those entries—such as the fact that this database runs on this physical server and is used by this application—were also social objects that could be created, modified, and crowd-sourced. In this manner, organizational knowledge about each object and its relationships with other objects can be enriched over time—just like a Wikipedia entry.

FIGURE 2: A Social Object Model as delivered in ITinvolve for Service Management™. Leveraging social collaboration principles

Define a taxonomy for your social objects

Knowledge comes from multiple sources. Existing IT knowledge may be scattered in different places such as Excel spreadsheets, Visio diagrams, Sharepoint sites, Wikis, CMDBs, automated discovery tools, etc. but it also resides in the minds of everyone working in IT, and even among your end users. To effectively capture this knowledge, you will need to define a taxonomy for your social objects. You can then begin to source or federate existing knowledge and associate it with your objects in order to accelerate the creation of your social knowledge management system.

With an initial foundation of knowledge objects in place, your next task is to make the system easy to use and relevant to your IT teams by defining perspectives on the objects. Establishing perspectives is critical to a well- functioning social knowledge management system, otherwise, you will fall into pitfall #2 discussed earlier. For example, you might define a Network Engineer’s perspective that includes network devices and the relationships they have to other objects like servers and policies. You might define a Security Administrator’s perspective that focuses on the policies that are defined and the objects they govern like network devices and servers. Without this perspective-based view, your teams will not have the relevant context necessary to efficiently and effectively leverage the knowledge management system in support of their day-to-day roles.

Enrich your knowledge and keep it current

Once you have initially populated your social objects and defined perspectives, you need to keep knowledge current and enrich it over time to ensure your IT staff finds it valuable. This is why defining your objects as social objects is so critical. Just like you might follow someone on Twitter or “friend” someone on Facebook, your teams can do the same thing with your objects. In fact, when you created your perspectives, you were establishing the initial baseline of what objects your teams would follow. In this manner, whenever anyone updates an object or its relationships, those who are following it will automatically be notified along with a dedicated “news feed” or activity stream for the object.

When you create your perspectives, you establish the initial baseline of what objects your teams will follow. In this manner, whenever anyone updates an object or its relationships, those who are following it will automatically be notified along with a dedicated “news feed” or activity stream for the object.

This does two important things. First, it keeps those who “need to know” current on the knowledge about your environment so that everyone has up-to-date information whenever there is an incident, change, or other activity related to the object. Instead of waiting until a crisis occurs and teams are interacting with out-of-date information, wasting valuable time trying to get each other up to speed, you can start to work on the issue immediately with the right information in the right context.

Provide a point of engagement for subject matter experts

Second, it provides a point of engagement for subject matter experts to collaborate around the object when they see that others are making updates or changes to the object and its relationships. This second point should not be underestimated because it taps into a basic human instinct to engage on things that matter to them and directly contributes to the crowd-sourcing motivation and improvement of knowledge accuracy over time.

Your third action is to embed your social knowledge management system into your core IT processes in order to enhance them. This is not simply an add-on, as described in Level 2 social IT maturity, but rather it is deep embedding of the social knowledge management system into your processes as the most trusted source of information about your environment. For example, imagine creating an incident record or change record, initially associating it with one or more impacted social objects, and then being able to automatically and immediately notify relevant stakeholders who are following any of those objects and then engage them in triaging the incident or planning the change. This is the power of social collaboration and why it can deliver new levels of efficiency and value for your IT organization.page10image25552

Create new knowledge objects

As an incident or change is worked using social IT, collaboration in activity streams creates a permanent and ongoing record of information, which at any point can be promoted to become a new knowledge object associated with any other object. For example, let’s say that a change record was created for a network switch replacement. Each of the individuals responsible for the switch and related objects like the server rack is immediately brought into a collaboration process to provide input on the change and contribute their expertise prior to the change going to the Change Advisory Board (CAB) for formal approval.

FIGURE 4: In-context collaboration and promotion to knowledge as supported by ITinvolve for Service Management™

This is just one example of the power of in-context collaboration. The same principles apply to incidents, problems, releases and other IT management processes.

To exit Level 3 and start to move to Level 4 on the maturity scale, you need to be able to provide your IT staff with in-context collaboration that is grounded in a social object model, utilizes a social knowledge management system that is easy to maintain and provides an up-to-date view of your objects and relationships, and enhances your existing IT management processes. But more importantly, you need to be able to show the quantifiable impact on one or more KPIs that matter to your organization.

Level 4 Maturity: Social-Driven

The final stage of social IT maturity is Level 4, the Social-Driven IT organization. The goal at this level is to leverage social collaboration for Continual Service Improvement (CSI).

The value of Level 4 social IT maturity comes in two forms. First, as your organization becomes more adept at leveraging social collaboration, you should benchmark your IT process KPIs against that of other organizations. Industry groups such as itSMF, the Help Desk Institute (HDI), as well as leading industry analyst firms, provide data that you can use. Getting involved in peer-to-peer networking activities with other organizations via industry groups are a great way to assess how you are doing in comparison to others. At this stage, you should be striving to outperform any organization that is not leveraging social collaboration principles across your KPIs, and you should be performing at or above the level of those organizations that have adopted social collaboration principles.

Measure the size of your community

Second, you should measure value in terms of behavioral change in your organization. At maturity Level 4, you should have established a self-sustaining community that is actively leveraging the social knowledge management system as part of its day-to-day work. Measure the size of your community and set goals for increasing the community size. Metcalf’s law applies directly to social collaboration: The “network effect” increases the value of the social knowledge management system exponentially as you add users to the community.

Measure the size of your community and set goals for increasing the community size. Metcalf’s law applies directly to social collaboration: The “network effect” increases the value of the social knowledge management system exponentially as you add users to the community.

One way to foster a larger and more active community is through recognition and rewards. For example, you might choose to publicly recognize and provide spot bonuses for the top contributors who have added the most to the social knowledge management system. Or, you may reward service desk personnel who consult the social knowledge management system before assigning the incident to level 2 personnel. You might also choose to acknowledge your staff with “levels” of social IT expertise, classifying those who participate occasionally as “junior contributors”, those who participate regularly as “influencers”, and those who are most active as “experts” or “highly involved.”page12image22344 page12image22504

What’s Beyond Level 4 Social IT Maturity?

One of the most exciting things about being engaged in advancing your social IT maturity is that we are all, as an industry, learning about and exploring its potential. In the future, we are likely to see new product enhancements from vendors that employ gamification principles that encourage even greater growth of our social collaboration communities.

We may see the integration of information from biometric devices that help us to more quickly assess end user frustration and initiate collaboration to resolve issues prior to the user even contacting the service desk. There are certainly going to be even more use cases for social collaboration than we can imagine today.

Getting Started with Social IT (Part 1 of 2)

Today’s post from Matthew Selheimer of ITinvolve is part one of a two-part feature on Social IT maturity, part 2 will follow soon. 

"Most of your customers, employees and stakeholders are actively using social media"

Today, 98 percent of the online population in the USA uses social media sites, and worldwide nearly 6 out of every 10 people use social networks and forums.

From a business perspective, this means a very large percentage of your customers, employees and other stakeholders are already participating in the social media universe where smartphones, tablets, video communication and collaboration are a part of daily life. It almost goes without saying that, if you want to connect with new audiences and marketplaces today, there is no other platform that compares to social media in reach and frequency.

In fact, a recent McKinsey & Company report suggests that the growth businesses of tomorrow will be those that harness the power of social media and its potential benefits not only externally but internally as well:

Most importantly, we find that social technologies, when used within and across enterprises, have the potential to raise the productivity of the high-skill knowledge workers that are critical to the performance and growth in the 21st century by 20 to 25 percent.’

We are social by nature

How might IT departments take advantage of this social media potential? IT organizations are, in fact, quite social by nature. Knowledge and expertise reside in different teams, and specialists must frequently come together and collaborate to plan for changes and resolve issues. These social interactions, however, are typically ad hoc and take place across a wide variety of methods from in-person conversations and meetings, to email, to phone calls, to instant messaging, to wiki sites, and more.

How can IT build upon its existing social culture to deliver new value for the broader organization?

To be considered as more than just a ‘nice to have,’ social media must provide tangible benefits. The good news is that social media principles do provide real benefits when applied to IT – and they do so in a big way. For example, IT organizations that are using social media principles are finding that their staff can interact with users and each other in new and more immediate ways. They are also finding that they can much more easily capture and share the collective knowledge residing across their systems and teams; and then armed with this knowledge, they are able to better understand their IT environment and the complex relationships that exist among their IT assets.

Being social brings risks and rewards

This, in turn, is leading to increases in staff productivity and is making day-to-day tasks like resolving incidents and planning for changes more efficient and more accurate. The results include faster time to restore service when outages or degradations occur, a higher success rate when executing changes, and a greater overall throughput of IT process management activities – just to name a few.

But the adoption of social media principles in IT also has the risk of certain pitfalls. In this article, we will explore a four-level model of social IT maturity, (See Figure 1) including how to avoid the most common pitfalls.

  • At Level 1, organizations begin to explore how social IT can contribute by defining a milestone-based plan with clearly established benefits as their social IT maturity increases.
  • At Level 2, IT takes specific actions to add on social capabilities to existing operations, and begins to realize projected benefits around user intimacy and satisfaction.
  • At Level 3, social IT becomes embedded into and enhances IT operational processes, providing relevant context to improve collaboration among IT professionals thereby making IT teams more efficient and accurate in their daily work.
  • Finally, at Level 4, IT evolves into a socially driven organization with a self-sustaining community, recognition and rewards systems that further incentivize the expansion of the community, and a culture that harnesses the power of social collaboration for continuous process improvement.

 

Figure 1 - A Proposed Social IT Maturity Model

Level 1 Maturity: Social Exploration

The first level of social IT maturity is Social Exploration. The goal of Social Exploration is to learn, and the value delivered comes from defining your plan to improve social IT maturity.

Such a plan must include specific key performance measures that can be tied to financial or other tangible business benefits. Otherwise, your social IT plan is bound to be greeted skeptically by management.

Start by asking yourself simple questions like ‘How can social tools improve my ability to provide better IT service and support?’ and ‘What social IT capabilities are available in the market that I should know about and consider for my organization?’ If you’ve not started asking these types of questions, then you aren’t even on the social IT maturity scale yet. Exploring what social IT could mean for your IT organization is the critical first step.

To exit Level 1 and move to Level 2 on the maturity scale, you must have a documented plan for how you will improve your social IT maturity that incorporates specific key performance measures. The following sections will discuss a variety of elements and performance measures that you should consider.

Social IT Pitfall #1: Ungoverned Broadcasting

In your transition from Level 1 to Level 2 maturity, a common pitfall is to look for a ‘quick win’ such as broadcasting via Twitter or RSS. A number of IT management software vendors include this capability in their products today, so it seems like an easy way to ‘go social.’ However, if you haven’t taken the time to define your communications policies clearly, you could end up doing more harm than good. Posting IT service status to public feeds could leave your organization exposed or embarrassed. You wouldn’t want to see ‘My Company finance application unavailable due to network outage’ re-tweeted and publicly searchable on Google, would you?

You can do more harm than good if you try for a ‘quick win’ approach to social IT by broadcasting via Twitter or RSS. Posting IT service status to public feeds could leave your organization exposed or embarrassed.

Level 2 Maturity: Social Add-ons

The most important thing about getting to Level 2 maturity, Social Add-ons, is that you are now taking specific actions to leverage social capabilities as part of your overall IT management approach.

While some organizations may choose to move directly to Level 3 maturity, because of its greater value, a common next step in increasing social IT maturity is the adoption of one or more social capabilities as add-ons to your existing IT processes. The goals at this stage are typically to leverage social capabilities to improve communications with users and, to a lesser extent, within IT.

The value of Level 2 social IT maturity is defined in terms of metrics such as user satisfaction, the percentage of incidents or requests that have been acted upon within their prescribed SLAs, and the creation of formal social IT communications policies that clarify what should be communicated to whom and when.

A logical place to start is to evaluate the social add-on capabilities of your current IT management software. You may find that your current vendor offers some type of 1:1 chat (instant messaging, video-based, virtual chat agents, etc.), often with the ability to save or record that chat. You may also find support for news feeds and notifications (e.g. Twitter, RSS, Salesforce.com’s Chatter, Yammer, or Facebook integration). You might also consider using these approaches on a standalone basis outside of your current IT management software if your current provider does not offer these capabilities.

Define your communication policies

Remember the first social IT pitfall of broadcasting, though. Before you start communicating, you must define your formal communications policies. Most likely, you already have a policy that pertains to email or Intranet communications to users and employees. If you do, that’ll give you a head start to work from. In any case, here are a few good rules of thumb to follow:

  1. Only communicate externally what you are comfortable with the entire world knowing about. In most cases you will find there are very few things, if any, which fit into this category. For example, you might push out a tweet to a specific user’s twitter account that their incident has now been closed, but without any details about the nature of the incident.
  2. If you do want to communicate using social tools externally in a broader way, consider using private groups that are secure. For example Twitter, Chatter, and Facebook all support private groups, although there is administrative overhead for both users and IT departments to request to join them and to manage members over time.
  3. Make sure what you communicate is focused on a specific audience.Don’t broadcast status updates on every IT service to everyone. If you create too much noise, people will just tune out your communications defeating their entire purpose.

To exit Level 2 and start to move to Level 3 on the maturity scale, you need to shift both your thinking and your plans from social add-ons to how social capabilities can be embedded into the work IT does every day. This means expanding your social scope beyond IT and end user interactions, and working to improve collaboration within IT.

Social IT Pitfall #2: Feeds, Walls, and Noise – Oh My!

One critical success factor for social IT communications is to ensure you are targeting specific audiences. Some vendors offer a Facebook-like wall in addition to the ability to push updates out via Twitter or RSS. In addition to the exposure risk previously discussed, these approaches can also create a tremendous amount of noise, which will make it difficult for both business users and IT to identify useful information in the feed or on the wall.

Relying on a solitary Facebook-like wall for social IT, as well as pushing updates out via Twitter or RSS, can create a tremendous amount of noise, making it difficult for both business users and IT to identify useful information in the feed or on the wall.

There is a simple analogy to illustrate this point. Imagine you are invited to a dinner party and arrive as one of twenty guests. As you enter, you hear many conversations taking place at once, music playing, clinking of glasses behind the bar, the smell of food cooking. What’s the first thing you do? If you’re like most people, you look around the room to find someone else you know, someone who appears interesting, or maybe you head toward the bar or the kitchen. What you’ve just done is to establish context for the party you’re attending. A single IT news feed or wall doesn’t provide useful context. It’s like listening to random sentences from each of the conversations at the party and contains a lot of noise that a business or IT user just doesn’t care about.

While news feeds and walls typically have a keyword search capability, both users and IT users will end up spending too much time trying to locate relevant information. As a result, they will likely over time start avoiding going to the feed or wall because it contains far too much information they don’t care about. What’s more, the feed can grow so long that it needs to be truncated periodically causing useful information that was posted a long time ago to become lost to the organization.

Stay away from one-size fits all walls or feeds. They’re not useful and will hurt the credibility of your social IT project.

This is part one of a two-part feature on Social IT maturity, part 2 will follow soon.

Rapportive – Adding Social Context to Email

The Rapportive Panel within Gmail

Strictly speaking, this technology is probably best described as ‘Social CRM’ rather than ‘ITSM’ but it’s a great example of pulling social feeds into a web service.

In a nutshell – you get a social summary of the person you are emailing.

The more information and context I have about my customer, user, reader, business partner – the better service I can provide.

If you are thinking about adding social data into your ITSM environment, or even questioning the value – then perhaps the items below will provide some food for thought.

I’m a big fan of Rapportive; the list below provides a quick summary of the strengths:

Blindingly Easy

First of all, the technical stuff. It’s a Gmail add-on delivered via a Chrome plugin. It’s very easy to install and use, these things needn’t be difficult. The Rapportive panel replaces what were previously adverts within Gmail. In the interests of privacy I’ve used my own details (right).

Within My Workflow

You don’t need to leave your workspace to lookup anything. Everything you need is presented within the workspace you are working in without any hassle or additional windows or clicks. Just like pulling the pertinent details from an asset register into an incident record – I get to see the headlines and dig out into further detail if I need it.

Automatic

I’ve worked with tools in the past that require you to link every single person to their social details manually. Rapportive just does it automatically, if I get an email out of the blue from someone new it automatically just grabs everything I need right within the email window. It’s awesome.

Social Context

This is the most important bit – my email conversation is enhanced by social context and relevance. For the person I am corresponding with I can see their photo, job title, last few tweets, Facebook updates and other social accounts. It’s great information to have at hand when responding to someone new and saves time hunting around LinkedIn. This gives a much richer experience than just seeing some boring corporate auto-signature.

Social Analytics

Click to Enlarge

This is where things get really smart. I can also connect Rapportive to other web services accounts and it will cross-reference email addresses with those services.

For example I use MailChimp for my email newsletter so when I receive an email support request, query or business enquiry from someone via email Rapportive will tell me:

  • Whether that person is already on my newsletter list and
  • Which articles they clicked on within the newsletter

This is a huge advantage when responding.  For example I will respond differently to someone that has subscribed to my newsletter for a year and read last month’s update compared to someone new.

Zero Lag Time

Finally, somebody else can worry about the computing power. Between them Gmail and Rapportive can worry about that. When I’ve used social CRM plug-ins locally (such as Xobni or Plaxo for Outlook) they tend to be compute hungry and slow down the email experience. Rapportive has its moments when it temporarily goes offline but it does not stop me from processing email.

The Right Price

It’s free.

Further info at www.rapportive.com