Social CRM Insights

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor  |  February 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions

The social channel via social media such as Facebook (News - Alert) posts, Tweets or social collaboration sites are changing customer relationships–social CRM. The customers are in charge, and are influencing each other in their buying decisions in a way that has not existed on a large scale since the early 20th century when word of mouth served as the primary product and service information channel.

To help contact centers understand what social channel/social media and social CRM is about and what is happening with them, Customer Interaction Solutions magazine reached out to a range of thought leaders to get their insights. Here are the highlights:

IBM Collaboration Solutions

Doug Heintzman, Director of Strategy, IBM (News - Alert) Collaboration Solutions

Social media captures the energies and opinions of customers. It captures content and packages it as a value for others. That content may be a review, information about how to configure or fix something, about related goods or services or an innovative way to use or optimize products. This content also represents an invaluable data source against which a company can perform analytics and derive insight about trends, customer buying patterns, customer satisfaction, and an early warning of safety or satisfaction problems. This insight and advanced warning can shape go-to-market and support strategy, lead to proactive early recalls and contribute to continuous product design and quality improvement.

There are issues with social media such as unauthorized data leakage, copyright infringement, or inappropriate or offensive content that need to be dealt with. Tools with comprehensive content management capabilities are a must and systems that can readily connect to sophisticated enterprise content management systems that have regulatory compliance and data leak discipline. They can work with analytic engines to discover dangerous patterns that should be considered in some industries in some situations. But our experience so far is that, for the most part, communities are very good at self regulating and tend towards focusing on quality. 

Social media as a customer engagement strategy also requires focus and timeliness on the part of the companies and vendors. If they are giving customers the ability to ask questions and have the opportunity to delight them with timely and accurate answers, then they had better take it. Companies also need to track customer issues and social dialogue not only to ensure customer satisfaction but also to gain insight into trends, make adjustments to marketing and sales tactics and get advance warning of potential problems.

There are many benefits of social CRM. Companies are much more in tune with and connected to their customers, thus improving customer satisfaction, improving customer retention and increasing the likelihood of repeat, adjacent and referral sales. Support costs can go down due to the peer support phenomenon. And firms can garner timely and high quality input about product design improvements, market trends and competitiveness. With the addition of analytics, you can specifically tailor sales and marketing initiatives to a specific group or even individual.  

The issues and challenges of social CRM include privacy, security and intellectual property concerns. Analytics can be an important means of addressing these issues by better understanding the context and relevance of any particular piece of information or the role or threat of any given individual. Analytics can be applied as a means of efficiently educating a community about issues, acceptable behavior in a community and policy compliance.

It is important that companies are up front about how they use personal information. For the most part, customers are comfortable with companies using rich customer profiles to deliver value to them to improve the quality of the sales and support experience. Having policies about how information is used and when information becomes separated for an individual identity and harvested for analytic derived patterns is important. Companies should be upfront with customers about policies and practices and perhaps even solicit their input.


Duke Chung (News - Alert), Founder and Chief Strategy Officer

Social channels (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Forums and blogs) are simply another channel for customers to provide their feedback and engage with a company. 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.

However, in social media 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 will be and where your customers will go to get support help.

You are 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 than external sites. The external sites create natural communities and many become a central part of the customers’ online or connected experiences. Corporate hosted sites remain useful but are a secondary community identity and presence for customers.

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 the better your SEO will be for your marketing efforts.

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 get to that 360 degree view the tactics multiply and become more difficult to execute. With customers currently tracked in your CRM, the question becomes how are they interacting with you on Facebook and Twitter, etc.?

Much effort has gone into unifying traditional channels and social CRM introduces more complexity. 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. 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 firm and customer service culture.

Your staff also needs to be trained and prepared for the social channel. The brand needs to be well-represented 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.


Steve Kraus, Senior Director of Product Marketing

The social channel puts more pressure than ever before to provide great products and services. Most importantly, it allows a flaw in a product or service to be quickly identified and rapidly corrected so before more relationships are impacted.

It is critical that social channels are monitored, analyzed and responded to like any other channel. If an individual chooses to communicate socially about an organization, the company should capture, track and associate that communication with a customer (or prospect) profile to ensure consistent responses, regardless of channel, and a full understanding of each customer’s interaction history. This is very important, not only in responding to that single customer’s communication, but also when analyzing and executing that best communication strategy across marketing, sales and service.

The key issue in today’s deployments is that since social media is still relatively new and unknown, companies deploy social solutions that are not integrated with their overall CRM systems and other communication channels. This leads to siloed communications, lack of overall customer insight, and the potential to damage, as opposed to enhance, customer relationships.

Social media is certainly creating a lot of “noise” for companies to sort through and decide when and how to engage customers. The challenge for organizations is to filter out the noise and find opportunities to sell more or deliver better service.

There is a divergence in social media strategies between responding to posts on external sites and hosting social communities, the result of organizations not yet ready to concede complete control of the social conversations happening on external sites. Having active communities on corporate hosted sites is a way for more traditional companies to open up their social media gates, but still have the control to monitor and facilitate discussions. By drawing people to internal community sites, organizations have a much better ability to recommend additional information and products, complimentary services and track and record that interaction on their sites. With external sites, it becomes much more difficult.

Ultimately, the customers/participants will decide which model is better, and companies will need to adapt to the customer’s preference. The balance between communities and external sites will exist, but they will continually move closer together and share more and more content.

The social channel does not change CRM strategies, for at the core of CRM strategies is ensuring that you are able to create, maintain and expand relationships with customers. Social channels provide alternative ways and additional tools to do that.

To defray the short term cost in setting up social channel strategies while companies find the right balance, there are some powerful technology solutions that can continuously adapt to customer behavior and automate responses and customer treatments. One example that can be leveraged in the short term is social listening capabilities. They enable companies to monitor social media conversations and automatically create and respond directly through the same CRM systems that are processing other channels. By taking advantage of this, not only are companies able to capture and respond, but they are gaining insight to customer communication habits across all channels.

Loyalty Factor

Dianne Durkin, President and Founder

With today’s social media, organizations should be aware that while engaging in social media may leverage their customer service, it can also destroy it. A poor customer experience can now be more harmful than ever. With the click of a mouse, customers can take their grievance global and change public perception of a brand.

Customer care via social media is a viral movement, both positive and negative. Organizations should think carefully about how to use social media as an additional tool to engage their customer. At the same time, they need to utilize the basics of respect and satisfying customer needs when building customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Today’s businesses need to take a step back from social media tools and web traffic analysis for establishing employee, customer and brand loyalty. To sustain loyalty, I would recommend organizations take a “back to basics” strategy – and have face-to-face conversations with customers to sustain loyalty. Rather than automatically defaulting to technical measurements gathered from Facebook, website analytics and Twitter-injected metrics, businesses must redefine corporate culture, image, brand and consumer behavior by building a loyalty advantage from within.   

A good brand can increase consumer interaction and result in increased productivity, higher profitability and lower customer turnover if they energize the workforce to promote excellent customer satisfaction and loyalty from within the organization. It can stimulate a positive outward bound chain reaction and create a favorable brand perception among consumers and stakeholders.

MacMurray, Petersen and Shuster  

Michele Shuster, Attorney 

Here are four such areas where social media meets the law:

1.         Copyright.

Copyright is copyright on blogs and on social media. If someone makes a comment using copyright-protected material it is their responsibility, not that of the firm hosting the item, whether Facebook, TripAdvisor or a company site, if the author and the hosting firm are different. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act section 512 (c) limits liability to hosting companies for copyright infringement.

2.         Libel and slander

The same protection exists for social media sites as for newspapers. If you don’t know that the information you are putting out there is false then there will not be liability; it is difficult to prove intentional tort. But let’s just say the social media site has been put on notice that the information they published is inaccurate and that if the publisher doesn’t take steps to retract it, then the publisher could have exposure to libel.

3.         Liability

For example, on a vendor-hosted IT support site say a customer has a problem with the vendor’s product and seeks help. Then other customers come up with solutions, and the customer having the issue tries them out but these do not work or causes more damage. There is a potential negligence action and individuals are tempted to go after the host because they have the deeper pockets.

Because it is on a computer it doesn’t change the basic elements of the tort. Did the firm hosting this forum take steps that a reasonable person would have taken to prevent this unfortunate act from happening?

If a firm does not have control over the environment that is putting out general information, what it should do is to put up some form of liability disclaimer. This puts consumers on notice that not all of these solutions have been tested and will not guarantee that they are going to work, causing potentially more harm. However, these disclaimers are not always as completely effective as legal defenses. There are hundreds of years of tort law that outlines what’s reasonable.

4.         Deceptive acts and practices

If a contact center agent says something that is unfair and deceptive such as lowballing prices, that’s going to be an unfair or deceptive practice whether they are saying it to one person or an entire community. It is no different than someone putting that claim in the newspaper, or on a radio or TV ad.

What is different in social media and the social channel compared to one-on-one conversations between contact center agents or retail staff or salespeople and customers is that there are many more people exposed to the same harm. Every person you transmit that message to increases the liability. With social media comments out in the open, and with their ability to be spread rapidly and worldwide, the exposure, and the damages, rapidly escalates.

Companies should place closer attention to these laws for those reasons. They should apply compliance layers with policies and procedures set up for social media that makes sense from customer satisfaction, legal and messaging perspectives and train their staff on these rules and methods. For example firms should look at filtering messages which may slow response times but would limit the odds and risks of incorrect and damaging comments reaching the public.

A firm may be able to settle an issue with a consumer in a one-on-one engagement, but it is much harder to resolve when this matter occurs and gets out on social media, with the speed that the information travels and with the sizes of the audiences.

Social Channel/Social CRM Best Practices

Sid Suri, senior director, marketing for Inquira ( recommends these best practices in incorporating the social channel into CRM:

1.         Understand what your goals are – is it a marketing check mark, is it to scale your support organization, is it to promote new products and services, or is it to build loyalty? While there will be tangible benefits encompassing all of these, having a clear understanding of what the primary goal is will help make decisions such as to invest in internal or external communities easier.

2.         Quantify ROI

Similar to point 1, companies should have a clear understanding of the ROI they are expecting and where it will come from. Is it deflections by pushing answers into the social channel? Is it x-selling products into a community of loyal shoppers? Is it shortening product development cycles through greater feedback capture? A clear vision and plan to measure the impact is essential to realizing that success.

3.         Invest in social beyond just the software platform

“If you build it, they will come” rarely works. Social channels, be it a moderated corporate forum or a Facebook page, need an investment in content, oversight, and processes to capture and respond to customers just like the contact center or website.

4.         Plan for scale

Peer to peer interactions are going to generate more information to mine and understand. This requires a greater investment in “findability” of information and managing unstructured information than what companies are used to today.

5.         Don’t let social become a silo

The social channel is just one channel, including the website, contact center, retail and other customer touch-points. Customers want and demand experience consistency. Building “cool” social outlets for the sake of it might be visually compelling. Yet if the information platform powering the social channel does not integrate with the retail stores and the contact centers, customers will get conflicting information leading to frustration and a drop in customer satisfaction and loyalty.

“Like many strategies, social CRM represents an upfront investment that will yield results down the road,” says Suri.

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

Edited by Stefania Viscusi