Lithium Helps Companies Rev Up Customer Support by Deputizing ‘Superfans’

9/29/11Follow @wroush

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new product ideas?’ If the discussion is all happening out on Facebook you have no control, so the goal is to bring these communities into the brand.”

The biggest obstacle Lithium faces when it’s pitching a new customer, Fong says, is fear of losing control—fear that the hosted communities will fill up with complaints and vitriol. But the fact is that conversations about companies and their products are happening on the Web and social channels anyway (as companies like Assistly argue), so brands might as well embrace them. “Letting people say whatever they want to say on a public website sounds scary,” says Fong. “But once you start building a platform for people to engage with you, the people who really come back are the people who like you.”

Lithium gets high marks from industry analysts. In a study this summer, Gartner ranked it with Jive and Salesforce.com as the leaders in social CRM, showing a critical combination of vision and execution skills. But at the same time, Gartner said the whole social CRM sector is nearing the peak of the classic hype cycle, meaning that vendors “will increasingly have to show examples of how their social data is used in core business processes.” Lithium’s software, in particular, was singled out for being more analytical than prescriptive. Once the system has identified a superfan, for example, it doesn’t suggest what to do if the fan’s engagement level changes.

But on the up side, there’s still a lot of market left to penetrate, and Lithium has doubled the number of communities it manages in 2011, Fong told me in late July. If all goes according to plan, the company could be in position to file for an initial public offering in 12 to 18 months, he said. Of course, that was before the recent perturbations on Wall Street. “We are gearing up toward an IPO, but we are not in any rush,” Fong said. “The main thing we’ve been focusing on is how do we ensure that every time we interact with a company we deliver results that really help them transform their business. Even in this day and age, word of mouth and customer references are the name of the game. So that’s all we obsess about, trying to drive success.”

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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