Customer relationship management should be at the core of every business whether you have a great online presence or not. From the ability to process returned goods in a shop, to fixing customer problems online, CRM is vital for businesses.
Traditionally looking after the customer was a coordinated approach for companies.
The Customer service teams worked with the Sales team and the Marketing team to make sure that the customer was sure to purchase your goods, and have a good experience with the brand all along. If there was an issue with the brand or the service, then customer service would sort it out.
The social customer is different.
He now has the customer relations team interacting with him and engaging with him on his chosen channel. Companies can then actively engage with the customer to increase perception about the brand. Collaboration, engagement and dialogue leads the relationship so you need to change the way you manage the relationship.
But who is the social customer and why does he need to be managed?
Always connected: The social customer gets his information about your brand online. They learn about news and carry out research through Twitter and Facebook. Their networks often have the answers they need.
Interactive: They trust 2 way conversations with the brand rather than broadcasts from the brand. They are socially savvy. they are connected
Expectant: the social customer expects response. They expect brands to be listening on the social channels where they are. At any time, day or night.
Listener: They want brands to be responsive to their queries, responsive to their queries and be in listening mode all the time. They want honesty. They want transparency. They want answers.
A recent example of a company with a poor reputation for CRM is one of the train operators in the UK. Last night there was a huge problem with the rail service that services the south west of England. Passengers who got on the trains to leave London during the 6pm rush hour had a problem. They left Waterloo station, only to be stranded for more than 4 hours outside Woking Station in Surrey 20 miles away.
Several people frustrated by the lack of information took matters into their own hands. Then several other passengers eventually forced their way out of the trains to walk down the track to Woking Station.
This caused power to the lines to be shut off stranding 60 trains. Passengers switched to Twitter to try to get an answer from South West Trains about why there was such a delay (here's an example if you can't find anything on Twitter search) and there are several blog posts documenting the chaos.
The thing that jumps out of this debacle is the utter lack of communication from South West trains themselves. National Rail Enquiries, who provide information about train scheduling were online, active and as helpful as they could possibly be last night.
Unfortunately for companies with no social CRM in place, Twitter hash tags makes communication between strangers easy. Communities form for the moment, transient friendships are made. Companies can no longer hide with fabrication and evasiveness. The social consumer is socially savvy.
Social CRM necessitates a change in behaviour. A total change.
Relationship change. Previously, the passengers on the stranded trains would have been totally dependent on messages from the guard. now they have formed an engaged community of activists, demanding answers in real time. Communication has been democratised and anyone can help the customer with his issue
Process changes: The consumer is in control. They control the messaging. The company now needs to listen and effect the change.
Channel Changes: The customer decides what channels to use. Twitter tends to be the main channel for instant dissemination of information with blogs used as a follow up
Time changes: This is not a 9 to 5 world any more. Companies who want to achieve good relationships with their customers need to be on hand to answer questions whenever problems arise. Even at 11pm.
Message Changes: Consumers create dialogue. Customers want interaction. They don't want outbound messages broadcast from the marketing teams. They want to connect with the customer.
Gartner predicted that by 2010 50% of customers with online communities will fail to manage them correctly as South West trains have proved. Even though they haven't created the community, its there all the same. And South West and many other companies need to take heed of this and evolve their social CRM strategy before they utterly fail.
Watching the complaints of the many commuters who have no other way to get to London for work still streaming across the social web, I think that they already have...
Image credit: Flickr