What Social Customers Want from their Brands

What you think you know about what your customers want from your company is probably wrong, and thereby rendering your social CRM program ineffective.

Carolyn Heller Baird and Gautam Parasnis recently produced an excellent study for the IBM Institute for Business Value, titled From social media to Social CRM: What customers want. They use original research to show that as it turns out, they don't love you for your personality after all: Customers want to get something from you.

Here are the top three reasons customers give for interacting with businesses via social media, with the percentage of respondents giving the answer:

  1. Get a discount - 61 percent.
  2. Make a purchase - 55 percent.
  3. Read reviews and product rankings - 53 percent.

Now here are the top three reasons businesses think customers interact with them via social media:

  1. Learn about new products - 73 percent.
  2. General information - 71 percent.
  3. Submit opinion on products or service - 69 percent.

"Huh?" businesses ask. "But I thought you were interested in... learning about me. All you want is... discounts? We have a relationship, don't we?"

It's embarrassing. While 64 percent of businesses think customers interact with them on social media to "feel connected," only 33 percent of customers say they do. And in an almost achingly sweet misperception, 61 percent of businesses think customers interact with them via social media to "be part of a community," whereas only 22 percent of customers actually do.

The study's authors note that "The wish for intimacy is not what drives most of [customer interactions via social media]... Businesses hoping to foster closer customer connections through social media conversations may be mistakenly projecting their own desires for intimacy onto customers' motivations."

While companies are lying on their beds doodling hearts around their customers' names in their diary, replaying the last conversation they had, customers are concentrating on what they can get from the business.

Now 60 percent of businesses do, in fact, grasp that customers want discounts and purchases via social media. But on a list of twelve reasons for social media interaction, those were literally the bottom two reasons given by businesses, and the top two by customers.

Businesses are way, way overestimating how much customers want them to be Facebook friends.

Sure, companies realize that yeah, customers want discounts and purchase opportunities, but they think customers really want so much more of a relationship than that, whereas in reality customers don't want to hear companies prattle on about themselves, customers want the facts and then to get down to the business at hand — "Are you gonna give me a discount or not? If you love me you would."

So how can you build customer loyalty, delight and advocacy with customers via social media? It might be difficult admitting that they don't love you for your personality, but you can still profit from the relationship.

Baird and Parasnis recommend, in a nutshell, seeing your business from the customers' point of view. You don't know? Ask them. Think "Why would a customer engage with us on social media?" Better yet, find the honest answer to "Why do I engage with companies on social media?"

This might mean monetizing social media with time-sensitive offers and discounts, or it might mean proactively initiating contact with customers when you know you have something to say they'll be interested in, not simply "Hi, we haven't contacted you for a while, we thought we'd let you know how it's going with us."

As Silvia Todorova wrote recently in a social media scenario, when that unpronounceable volcano erupted over Iceland, spewing ash all over the arrivals and departures boards at airports around the world, KLM and Icelandair jumped on Twitter and Facebook to keep their customers up to date on what was happening, seeing from their customers' point of view how social media could help in that situation. It was a classic case of using social CRM to improve the customer experience.

They used the immediacy of social media to their advantage, instead of making customers access and hunt around on the Web site, which was evidently British Air's "social strategy."

It also reduced the need to hire as many additional call center agents, since they were using social media smartly, correctly and profitably -- and it no doubt made life easier for their harried gate employees who didn't have to deal with as many clueless, angry, stranded travelers.

But customers being part of your community? Um, maybe they're just not that into you.