Why Social CRM is Important for Brands And How To Fit It in Your Strategy

    Mishka Agarwal, a young yoga enthusiast ordered a Yoga mat through a leading on-line shopping portal. As promised the package was delivered a day later, but when she opened it up she wasn’t happy with what she saw. Mishka preferred a yellow coloured mat, but because she didn’t really spell out her choice, the portal sent her the default blue mat! When Mishka initiated an exchange, the portal politely refused to entertain her! After all, there was no defect in the product and as per the rules of exchange only products that were damaged or incorrectly delivered could be exchanged! But Mishka Agarwal would have none of it! She promptly picked up her smartphone and punched furiously. She announced her displeasure on Twitter in as many words, tagged the portal, hash tagged her online barrage and sat idle until her Tweets were retweeted by her friends and she found willing supporters. Very soon the portal in question had to bend its rules and, succumb to her complaint and agree to exchange her product!

    So what does it take for a brand, big or small to come crashing on its knees in the world of social media? The answer is already there before I asked it – the customer! It is the customer that holds the strings of fortune for a business, from defining its demand, to experiencing its product or service, to reviewing it, every step is shared with the world. The traditional approach to customer relationship management has undergone a metamorphosis like never before! It’s the age of Social CRM.

    No matter what you do, you cannot ignore the customer’s voice. After all he is the entitled one. Customers do not consume products and services, they consume experiences. And only those experiences that leave a lasting impact on the consumer ensure a sustained engagement. What do you think would have happened if no one paid attention to Mishka’s complaint on a social network? Mishka would have continued to voice her satisfaction and chances are that anyone who read her review would also drop the said shopping portal like a hot brick! Clearly this goes against customer engagement. Paul Greenberg, author of “CRM at the Speed of Light” says, “The ongoing interactions between a company and customer, offered by the company, chosen by the customer.” How a customer chooses to engage with a brand rests on the customer. Whether he chooses to follow a brand online, participate in its groups and post in online forums is completely based on the customer’s choice. Paul Greenberg goes on to list a delectable recipe for creating amazing customer experiences that draw consumers to your brands.

    But before we go into how social media impacts customer relations today, let’s do a quick rewind to the world before social media changed the game.

    Businesses all over the world, from your nearby roadside eatery to the fine dining destinations in town, customer interaction was done via traditional modes of telephone conversations or email. The company worked within the framework of its pre-assigned departments, where most transactions were conducted inside out, meaning it was always the organization transacting or interacting with its customers. There were specific business hours for operations and interaction and if you had a query and it was a holiday, then you had to wait for the shutters to go up! Imagine the answering machine dispassionately answering your call with a ‘Sorry, our business hours are between 9-6 and we are currently unable to attend to your call. Please call back within business hours!’ Sounds familiar? It was purely a repository of data and information used to manage, monitor and track the deals. Traditional CRM lacked insight. Almost like stuck in time, it lacked the ability to change the game of customer engagement even while playing it!

    Who is a Social Customer?

    As if the archetypal customer was an easy nut to crack, the social customer is even a trickier individual to please. The single most defining characteristic of the social customer is that he consumes information in a different way. The social customer even before rubbing his eyes awake in the morning may sign into Facebook to check on the updates he may have missed. He is someone who has perhaps replaced the morning newspaper with Twitter!

    The social customer does not take the bait of traditional advertising. He sifts through his social network and learns about new products and brands. He trusts his online invisible friends more than a high flying celebrity luring him with is rehearsed histrionics.

    Just because he is always connected, the social customer does not want unsolicited information. He chooses what he wants to see and ignores SPAM. At the same time he expects you to be on the same platforms that he is on.

    The social customer has a voice and he wants you to hear him. He expects you to listen and engage with him. He also expects you to be connected and aware. For example, if Mishka has vented her dissatisfaction on Twitter, she expects the tele-caller who calls her back for the refund to fully understand the situation.

    The social customer defines the engagement with brands…and in such a case there is only way to go, win the trust of the customer!

    Enter Social CRM and how is it different from traditional CRM?

    Let’s begin by saying that Social CRM is not an alternative to traditional CRM.  The basic spirit of customer – brand communication remains the same. Traditional CRM for instance, was about sales, marketing, and support/ service based functions whose purpose was to keep customers returning for more. Traditional CRM concentrated on gathering data and information that would help them engage better with clients. Today the terms of engagement have changed with newer modern ways of exchange having come in. It’s not about fans and followers, it is about customers and advocates.

    From PR departments to dedicated social media managers with full hands on the deck approach, the social media presence of brands is carefully handled by organizations today. The customer is the focal point of how companies operate. Instead of marketing and driving messages to the customers, brands now look at collaborating with customers to create the brand.

    So why is there brouhaha about Social CRM for brands?

    The answer lies in the example I gave at the beginning of this article. The customer today is an empowered and aware individual who makes choices of his own and has the ability to influence others. Social CRM helps brands glean information from consumers, analyze their feedback and experience and then utilize the understanding to create a better experience for the customer or rather attend to the customer’s requirements. In a social network everyone is a consumer. One who physically or directly experiences a brand and shares his thoughts with the world. That too is a consumer who curates the feedback from social network and decides to invest in the brand or share his experience. Consumers are connected in a network and therefore that makes Social CRM a complex and dynamic tool.

    When Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer opened its e-store in India, it was banking on its earned credibility across the world. After all, being the largest and the most successful e-shop comes with its own lineage of customer experience that attracts consumers in a new market. In a remarkable way, Jeff Bezos founded Amazon to optimize the consumer experience on the internet. And over the years the organization has worked diligently to bring forth new experiences. With features like Amazon Prime, Amazon Fresh and Mayday, Amazon has created a new benchmark of customer services. Not just that it has brought imagination to customer relations. Even though the features are not available in India, the ‘good-word’ and superior customer experience has preceded the launch of the India store. When Amazon promises a service it delivers, it lives to its reputation and it is the same reputation that India users wanted to experience. The amazing Amazon CRM model is a winning example of how a brand bonds customers with integrated services. This is a brand that thinks in an integrated way, from strategy to practice and back again, paying attention to the details that build brand and customer equity.’ Something that makes Amazon really appealing to me is that it is an organization that uses technology as a means to deliver CRM thinking!  Ask any Amazon buyer today what does he like about the portal and you will know what I mean.

    In 2012, Spikes Asia awarded eBay India the social CRM award. eBay understood the challenges of the online marketplace. Indians are reluctant online shoppers and so to break the conundrum they diverted their spotlight on the key purchase decision makers – women. Women were branded as evangelists and eBay focused on making their Facebook page a magnet to the main website. The FB page piled 500,000 followers in six months. Today the count stands at 7,581,670!

    More recently, Taco Bell India used a Tweet lead to make a consumer’s day special. When Revathi Saran tweeted that she was heading towards Taco Bell to celebrate her birthday, the social media manager picked up her tweet to plan a little surprise for her. The restaurant staff sang her a ditty and brought out a cake for her to cut it too! Revathi was thrilled and when she tweeted a big thank you, Taco Bell rang a loud gong of approval on social media.

    Is There A Social CRM Formula?

    As far as social CRM is concerned there aren’t any rule books written. At least there isn’t a universal formula that can be plugged in and set to roll. For any organization to engage with its consumers and build a brand collectively it needs a robust social strategy. Today social media management and customer relation management are used interchangeably and so therefore there must be a meticulous planning.

    A Robust Social CRM Tool

    A comprehensive social media management program that listens, monitors and engages with consumers is what paves the way for empowered interaction between the brand and its end users. Like Meg Bear, VP of Product Development of Oracle Social Cloud says, “Your social platform should also integrate seamlessly with other key enterprise applications like sales, marketing, service and commerce for a holistic approach that overs all customer points.” From HubSpot, to Tweetdeck there are enough social CRM platforms to choose from. Remember to do your research, analyze your social media goals and then pick the right tools for you and your business.

    Invest In Your Resources

    The Social team is as critical as any other team within the organization. So invest in your resources. Pick the people who have their eyes, ears and minds open. Being social is a skill and you would want to give it to someone who is a great bridge between the brand and the consumers.

    Identify & Reward Your Loyal Consumers

    People like to be rewarded. So identify those who engage with your brand proactively and make it a point to promote and reward them. Give them a coupon, a cash back, or a surprise freebie. Let them feel happy and come back to you.

    Be Smart While You Track Users

    Social networks are programmed to include lists and groups. If you are using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn there is no excuse to use them smartly!

    Talk To Customers And Not At Them

    The sole purpose of social media is to engage with customers, so never forget that! A two-way communication builds relationships. It is equally important to timely respond to queries. Don’t leave online queries unanswered. Your streams may need round-the-clock monitoring, but then that’s the magic of social media CRM!

    Having One Identity 

    Whatever be your brand’s voice, your social media must echo the same. Having two identities confuse the consumer.

    Ignore the Trolls

    They are everywhere! No matter how hard you try, you cannot sanitize your online space completely. There will be trolls so make it a habit to not feed their motives. They are out there to provoke you and stir up a scandal.

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    Apurva Chamaria currently heads global brand and digital marketing for HCL Technologies, a 6 Bn US$ IT major and is responsible for global brand marketing, employer brand, employee and community marketing, thought-leadership marketing and digital marketing. He has pharmaceutical industry experience having worked in various sales and marketing positions at Ranbaxy Laboratories Limited (now a part of Daichi Sankyo). He's also a regular speaker at industry and company conferences like Sales Performance Management '12, Octane User Group Summit, Microsoft Leaders Speak, ACMP Change Management 2014, and premier B-School events and annual conclaves of institutes like ISB, IIM-A, IIM-Raipur, FMS, IIMC, IMI, MICA, Great Lakes etc. He’s a columnist for the Pitch magazine. Follow him on Twitter @a1purva
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