Turning Social Media into Revenue

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  September 01, 2010

As we head into the home stretch towards ITEXPO (News - Alert) West 2010, I can’t help but get increasingly more excited Social CRM Expo, one of a dozen collocated events at this year’s ITEXPO West. The reasons are many, but mainly it’s about the almost ridiculous growth of social media, certainly driven by 500 million Facebook (News - Alert) users. But, there’s also its impact on business and, though there is ongoing debate over the legitimacy of Social CRM, the fact is that the majority of CRM and contact center vendors are weighing their options, and many start-ups have sprouted to leverage the social media phenomenon.

Of course, given that other than Facebook, most social media sites and platforms are only in their infancy, we’ll have to wait to see how it all plays out. But, what we do know it that business success ultimately rests with customer satisfaction and social media presents businesses with a new and highly available resource for reaching their customers. Of course, it also gives customers a bigger audience than ever to whom they can voice both complaints and praise.

I’ve had a chance recently to talk to a number of vendors in the contact center and CRM space, and the one thing they all agree on is social media is coming. Where they disagree is how quickly it will rise to prominence as a CRM tool and how it should be integrated into existing technologies.

Some, like VoltDelta, see it as an opportunity for entrepreneurial companies to launch a new breed of add-ons to core contact center technologies.

“We see ourselves as being the solid plumbing, the core technology that enables call centers to operate,” explains Terry Saeger, executive vice president and general manager, VoltDelta. “We will look to elegantly integrate social media and other ancillary features into our core platform.”

It seems a rational approach, given that, traditionally, contact centers have been among the slowest to adopt new technology, drawing on the fundamental – though grammatically contemptible – theory that, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The same holds for social media integration, according to USAN’s Senior Vice President of Business Development and Marketing Harry Miller (News - Alert), who notes that, “People are recognizing it, but I haven’t seen a dramatic shift in taking advantage of SMS or social media channels.”

He does, however, agree, that there is a fundamental demographic shift taking place, with the younger, more mobile and much more tech-savvy generation leveraging social media and text messaging, and quickly becoming a very vocal constituency to every business with which the interact.

What it means is a new model for customer contact that will rely on connecting with customers through the best available channel, which could be live, IVR-based, SMS, social media, or others. The key is understanding that “the best channel” is simply defined as that through which each customer chooses to engage.

The result has been a frenzy of activity, as business explore ways to invest in social media – simply because they are beginning to understand that ignoring social media can easily undermine previous efforts to strengthen already fragile vendor loyalties.

“There is a great chance that, if I do a search for a product, I am not going to find the vendor site first,” suggests Michael Perry (News - Alert), head of speech self service at Avaya. “So, vendors have to be able to inject themselves into the conversation wherever it happens.”

Perhaps more even more important, though, is the reality that the growing use of the social channel means customers no longer have to wait to give feedback – nor do they have to seek out ways to provide it. They simply use the same social media applications they use on a daily basis to share other thoughts and content with friends and colleagues.

This real-time nature of social media means that businesses must be prepared to react to customer feedback just as quickly as they receive it. Quite simply, because they are able to provide instant feedback, customers are quickly developing an expectation of instant response.

“Social media has helped people understand that it’s about real time, and that the little things make all the difference in terms of operations and efficiency and feedback,” says Jon Sanderson, vice president of marketing at Mindshare Technologies. “The longer you wait to respond to a customer, the worse it is going to be. If you resolve the conflict immediately, the customer is actually likely to become more satisfied.”

It seems easy, and it can be – as long as businesses understand where their customers are providing feedback, are able to track it, and can turn feedback into actionable interactions. But, it all rests on effectively integrating social media with existing customer care tools and getting the feedback to the right people – those who are best equipped to react to it.

Then, and only then, can companies that have invested the time and effort into developing effective social media strategies tie social media into their revenue streams. This means not only monitoring, tracking, and reacting to feedback, but also building a customer information database and incorporating that into outbound campaigns.

“The key is being able to take social media interactions and tying them back to something meaningful,” says Perry. “It’s about getting to increased customer satisfaction, but when you take it to the next step, the more information you have the better you can deliver valuable information to your customers.”

Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi