The Rise of Social Service
Social media's explosion over the last few years has had some obvious implications for CRM.
At first, as in every new thing in CRM, the implications for sales were appreciated first (although they have yet to be fully realized). However, this time around, there are other forces at work -- namely, economic forces. There aren't that many new customers to acquire in this economy. Thus, customer retention is a big issue -- and what better way is there to retain customers than provide excellent customer service?
These two phenomena -- social media and the ascendance of service -- represent a major opportunity for businesses wise enough to seize on them. If embraced and executed upon gracefully, the results can be beneficial to all involved: Customers will get better service, companies can facilitate better service at a reduced cost, and the interaction between company and customers can lead to increased loyalty.
Knowing Your Product Better Than You Do
Here's what I mean by this. An increasing number of customers are not going directly to businesses for answers to their questions -- they're going to their peers via social media. As a result, they're essentially offloading your service organization of significant traffic without you ever knowing about it.
So your service organization is being relieved of some traffic. The other good news is that often, customers know more about the ins and outs of your products than you do -- you made it, but they bang on it all day. They're the ones that spot the idiosyncracies, have figured out work-arounds, and can recommend accessories or additions to solve specific problems that you may never have anticipated. Thus, these peers are providing different and often better service suggestions than your service team can.
In both situations, it's important that your service organization pays attention to these conversations. First off, you can track the topics people are seeking assistance with and move to help address them. Secondly, you can look for these off-beat customer solutions and, where appropriate, bring them into your own knowledge base and boost your ability to respond to direct customer service requests.
A Personalized Approach to Loyalty
But it doesn't stop with passive listening. The third benefit that "social service" can yield comes when your service teams starts participating on these social channels. They can play a key role as both peers and representatives of the organization; selecting the right people to fulfill this important role can help increase your profile on these forums and drive even more customers in the direction of "social service." It also helps create a closer relationship between the customer and the company -- a personalized approach to loyalty.
We all know that customers are even more loyal when a problem is resolved to their satisfaction than they are when there's no problem in the first place; this is one way of cementing that loyalty, and it's a way your service organization can do it in the one-to-many context of social media, amplifying the effect.
The channels we're talking about here are the usual suspects -- Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, customer forums, and even your own company-sponsored forum. It pays to learn where your customers are having these service discussions; finding that out is the critical first step that will allow you to begin using these channels to capitalize on the virtuous cycle of social service.
First, Get Your House In Order
Note, however, that social media will amplify exactly what you can deliver. If your service processes are broken, going social will only broadcast your incompetence to the world. Social media will not magically untangle Byzantine processes or make indifferent employees suddenly care about customers. It's a supercharger on your service engine -- and without that basic engine, a social service approach is not going the car go by itself.
If you think that these ideas are over-the-horizon, think-about-it-next-year concepts, check the numbers. A survey conducted in May 2010 by Forum One asked this question: What is your most important social media goal? Almost a quarter (22 percent) said the most important goal was customer service, and 15 percent said the most important goal was fostering peer-to-peer customer service. That's 37 percent of the respondents taking social service seriously -- and it's a percentage that will only grow as the effectiveness of social service makes itself felt.
CRM Buyer columnist Chris Bucholtz blogs about CRM at Forecasting Clouds. He has been a technology journalist for 15 years and has immersed himself in the world of CRM since 2006. When he's not wearing his business and technology geek hat, he's wearing his airplane geek hat; he's written two books on World War II aviation, and his next two are slated for publication in 2010.