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January 11, 2011

Parature on Social CRM

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor

All customers i.e. including ourselves are “social customers”. We rely on each other for information about whether the products and services which are out there are any good.

The advent of broadband-accessed web and social media or social channel tools has enabled us to easily and quickly research goods and suppliers and provide our experiences and opinions to a global audience 24/7.

For while our interactions and relationships with organizations: companies, charities, and schools and government agencies are one-to-one, hence customer relationship management (CRM), the social dimensions have accurately turned this into one-to-many or social CRM.

To obtain greater insights on the social channel and social media, and social CRM, TMCnet recently interviewed Duke Chung (News - Alert), who is founder and chief strategy officer for Parature , a cloud-based customer support software provider with over 900 customers worldwide. Here are the highlights:

TMCnet:          Does the social channel change CRM strategies and tactics and if so how? 

DC:     Social channels (e.g. Facebook (News - Alert), Twitter, Forums and blogs) are simply another channel for customers to provide their feedback and engage with companies. Social CRM is changing the game and now enables customers to take more control of the customer service process. This is happening because everything is public and everyone can see what your customers and prospects are saying.

While the strategies remain similar to CRM –to get to that 360-degree view –the tactics multiply and become more difficult to execute, however. With customers currently tracked in your CRM:  how are they interacting with you on Facebook? Twitter? Much effort has gone into unifying traditional channels, and social CRM introduces more complexity.

You need a multi-channel social media approach for customer service by being active on Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, web support, phone and elsewhere; companies can interact with and engage customers in ways that were not possible just several years ago.

Direct integration from your support system into these channels is absolutely imperative so you can track, manage and analyze what is being said and what is being resolved. This method not only keeps your customers happy, but it also ensures your brand is well-represented and you are servicing customers where and when they choose to communicate. Employing a centralized response management system with a robust knowledge base system will ensure that you provide consistent answers back.

You also need to provide timely and quality answers back into the social channel just like you would with e-mail, phone and online case management.  The way your company handles responses back to your customers showcases the personality of your company and customer service culture.

At the same time your staff needs to be trained and prepared for social channels. Yes, questions need to be answered but the brand needs to be represented well – with a consistent and accurate voice. It’s becoming more important that your customer service/marketing team actively responds to each post. Negative sentiments or posts can get viral quickly so it’s imperative that all customer questions are answered honestly and in a timely manner.

TMCnet:          There appears to be two diverging streams in the social channel: listening/reaching out to customers and prospects over external sites e.g. Facebook, LinkedIn (News - Alert), TripAdvisor and drawing and engaging them on corporate-hosted social community sites. Please discuss.

DC:     You need to be where your customers are. You can set up a social community site for your website to engage in, but you can’t control what the next Facebook or Twitter post will be and where your customers will go to get support help.

With a multichannel customer service strategy, you will be able to actively manage monitor, engage and respond to questions from all of these social channels and stay on top of new social channels. The more answers you provide back online (e.g. through Facebook, Twitter, Web knowledgebases), the better your SEO will be for your marketing efforts.

You are also more likely to be successful with customers when you adapt to them instead of forcing them to adapt to you. There are many successful corporate-hosted communities but these are less organic that external sites. The external sites created natural communities and many have become a central part of the online or connected experience for customers. Corporate hosted sites remain useful but are a secondary community identity and presence for customers.

TMCnet: A social CRM strategy appears on first glance involving considerable added resources for firms amidst a still-weak economy. Just how expensive are enabling the social component? Can it be justified?

DC:     Implementing a social community product for your website can cost anywhere from $100 to $100,000 a year, depending on how robust the community product is. Social sites like Facebook and Twitter are free to set up. A well managed social community system can be a way to offer support deflection by enabling other customers to help answer customer questions. In some cases, this could reduce inbound support load by 30 percent to 40 percent.

The strategy needs to be carefully planned and likely incremental. If execution happens in steps – measuring success along the way – you can still make progress. But avoiding the initiative because of cost will leave an organization well behind the curve.

TMCnet:          What are the impacts of mobile to the social channel and social CRM?

DC:     As social networks are moving into mobile devices (e.g. Facebook Mobile, Twitter is highly mobile), support will likely follow these trends. The mobile aspect means that social networks are following consumers wherever they go. There could be additional opportunities to leverage the unique aspects of mobile activity such as location in addition to traditional customer information captured in CRM.

TMCnet:          What are your recommended best practices in incorporating the social channel into CRM i.e. social CRM?

DC:     Here they are:

*          Doing it right means getting customer service/contact center teams to help

*          Pro-actively monitor your Facebook Wall and automatically remove objectionable and obscene keywords

*          Provide Facebook and Twitter responses from one response management system for better tracking, analytics and measurement.

*          Responding to customer complaints in a timely, honest, and consistent manner actually increases customer loyalty

*          Utilize workflow to efficiently route issues to the right queues and agents

*          Leverage a knowledge base to ensure consistent answers and responses

*          Showcase a “support tab” or “contact us” section for your Facebook Page with access to customer answers, support management and live chat

*          Utilize analytics and reporting to better understand customer trends

Finally get started as soon as possible. Have a plan and determine how you’re going to measure your plan.

(Ed. Note: To enable firms learn more about the social channel and to provide them with information to help them successfully execute their social CRM strategies, TMC (News - Alert) is sponsoring the SocialCRM Expo Feb.2-4, 2011 that is co-located with ITEXPO East in Miami, Fla. Visit our site and check back frequently for updates)


Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Juliana Kenny

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