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In Social Media, The Customer Really Comes First

Social media make the customer more powerful than ever. Here's how to listen and react.
The customer is always right. Any organization that has paid only lip service to that adage will find itself at a distinct disadvantage as social networking platforms give customers not only a louder voice, but also one that can be heard far and wide in a matter of seconds.

Real-time compliments, complaints, questions, leads, support … Welcome to the age of social CRM.

We know of conventional CRM as the use of technologies and business practices to align and integrate marketing, sales, customer service, and help desk to attract new customers and retain and maximize relationships with existing ones. Social CRM is, well, exactly the same thing, but it uses the data and interactions from social platforms. Social CRM is challenging companies to be more open with their customer engagement initiatives, as well as to integrate and update traditional CRM systems with new social networking tools and processes.

"We don't see social CRM as being separate from the overall imperative to improve and manage customer relationships," says Forrester Research analyst William Band. "Social technologies that are associated with social engagement are really a subset of CRM technologies."

Here To Serve

Customer service is the most natural element of CRM to take advantage of the social model; it's where we're seeing some of the most significant social CRM impact today.

After some early, rudimentary steps into the provision of service and support on Twitter and Facebook, online men's fashion retailer Bonobos saw that customers were eager to engage on social media platforms--more so than by email or phone. The company determined it needed to be where its customers were, says John Rote, VP of customer experience at Bonobos.

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"We were early advertisers on Facebook and a number of [employees] had Twitter accounts, but for a while we were a little afraid of taking full advantage of social, even from a marketing and advertising point of view," Rote says. "But with a lot of customers, once we started engaging with them on social media, we realized we had never had a call from this guy or an email from this guy, but here we are, and he's bringing his friends into the conversation on Twitter, he's very active on Facebook. Turns out there are a lot of people for whom the bar to engagement is pretty low for social media. They're really happy to become excited brand advocates. You just have to meet them on their own terms, which for a lot of people means Twitter and Facebook."

Bonobos' social customer service efforts began with just him and one other person, Rote says. The two would print out screens showing customer interactions and manually tick off which ones each had responded to. As Bonobos delegated more time and resources to social efforts, its need for more robust management technology also increased. Instead of relying on shared printouts, Bonobos now uses (a service) to route service inquiries and customer cases to make sure they're all getting addressed by the right people and that the information can be archived and used moving forward.

Bonobos also discovered a kind of continuous loop between customer service and brand promotion. "What we saw was that the more engagement we had, from a service point of view, the more participation we had from a promotions and marketing point of view," Rote says, "and it was just this reinforcing kind of cycle, where we have people come in and do referrals over social media--that type of thing."

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