Use Social CRM for Improved Customer Experiences

By not integrating social media and customer experience management solutions, businesses are missing out on the opportunity to inexpensively reach a broad, diverse and growing audience of influencers and customer advocates.

Two recent studies point to the rapidly increasing value consumers are placing on the opinions appearing on blogs and sites such as Facebook and Twitter. And that should wake-up executives at businesses that have, as yet, been reluctant to use social listening and monitoring tools to learn what customers, competitors and others have to say about their companies and products across the social web.

More than two-thirds of global consumers polled in Nielsen's Consumer Confidence Survey said they seek online product reviews, recommendations from discussion forums or social media sites when making a purchase decision. And 40% of global consumers would not buy consumer electronics, 22% would not buy telecommunications services and 19% would not buy gaming devices without consulting online reviews, according to the Nielsen study.

Imagine, then, that your latest consumer electronics product, software product or any other solution is getting panned online: You are missing an opportunity and don't know it.

To do better, and harvest this extraordinary valuable feedback, marketing should gather customer behaviors to develop buyer insights by persona. Sales should use public comments to source new leads and expand existing customer accounts. Customer service should use social support tools to meet frustrated customers and improve customer satisfaction and retention. Engineering, design and manufacturing must tune in to the social stream to quickly figure out where product problems lie and fix them, and uncover new innovation opportunities.

On the flip side, for customers raving about your latest offering, you may need to dial up the marketing campaigns, ramp-up manufacturing, add shifts and expand your distribution channels. Think Zhu Zhu Pets or Silly Bandz.

We're not talking about a small group of people, either. In the United States, 75% of the active Internet households visited a social sites in the prior month, and 55% of U.S. adults have at least one social profile, the Nielsen study found. About one-fifth of these connected consumers publish or own a blog and at the time of this article, Facebook was over 500 million account holders; despite continued outcries by privacy proponents and even a much-publicized Quit Facebook Day, the site's popularity shows no signs of abating.

On average, U.S. consumers spent more than 6 hours each month on social networking sites - with the average U.S. worker spending nearly 5.5 hours a month visiting these sites from the office, according to Nielsen.

Social Customers Seeking Social Customers

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) recently released a report about the increasing impact of digital technologies across all segments of entertainment and media over the next five years, a trend firmly driven by the consumer.

"Consumer feedback and usage provides the only reliable guide to the commercial viability of products and services, and the global consumer base is being used as a test-bed for new offerings and consumption modes," the report said.

PwC's study reinforces consumers' seemingly unquenchable thirst for knowledge-sharing across product lines via social media and blogging sites.

"The ability to consume and interact with content anywhere, anytime — and to share and discuss that content experience with other people via social networks — will become an increasingly integral part of people's lives," the report said.

From CRM to Social CRM

Social networks are just another means of communicating with customers and another window into the way they view your company, products and brand. That's important because customer experience (CX) management incorporates the customer's entire experience, whether it is in-person, on the phone or via a Web portal.

CRM software has expanded to embed social media technologies for improved customer engagement, and which are often referred to as social CRM.

For example, negative experiences often revolve around long wait times and duplications - either via disconnected phone calls or having to repeat the same information to different company agents while trying to get an issue resolved. Other problem areas include poorly-designed or operational interactive voice response systems, rude representatives or not being taken seriously, and lack of a resolution to the problem. Customers report a good experience when agents are knowledgeable, polite, empowered and able to quickly resolve problems.

Imagine having another tool - the social network - to change a bad experience into a better one, or to transition an irate customer into a soothed, satisfied client. Or to turn a happy customer into an advocate.

Customer relationship management systems and complimentary technology are great enablers - but they must be reliable, simple to use and streamline customer communications, not further complicate, the process. Websites that remember information, recognize the consumer and give your company's agents immediate access to customer data in order to avoid time-consuming, mind-numbing requests for repetitive information are cornerstones to providing good experiences.

We've all gritted our teeth in frustration after being asked, again, to confirm our phone number or address after waiting impatiently to get through to a live body on a customer support line. Or clicked through a meandering website, only to watch it lapse after completing all the information. Following these painful experiences, how many of us have posted a recounting on Facebook or Twitter? Nowadays, who doesn't read-up, not only on products, but also on companies' return policies, customer service and product reliability?

But many of us also have extolled those businesses that have taken the extra step to ensure a rewarding experience, that have provided exceptional customer service or provided a superior product.

The integration of socially-infused CRM tools with CX processes creates repeatable opportunities to turn poor experiences into good ones and deliver consistent and differentiated experiences that transform customer relationships and achieve the downstream benefits of increased customer share, customer loyalty and customer retention.