Customer in the spotlight – How to implement an effective Social CRM strategy

One thing is certain – Web 2.0 has significantly changed the way people interact with each other and obtain information. ‘Social media’ as the fundamental innovation of the past years, are according to digital media consultant Neville Hobson not only tools, channels and software, but it’s “what people do with technology, the software, the tools and the channels: sharing pictures and videos, writing product reviews, collecting content…”. These kinds of interactions taking place 24h/ day in real-time, lead to the fact that companies nowadays face a completely different customer than 20 years ago. Today, customers are better informed, smarter and in this way more powerful than ever before – Christopher Carfi first coined the term ‘social customer’ in this context. Due to a much greater transparency and product offer thanks to the web, the new generation of customers (the digital natives) tend to be much less loyal towards a specific brand than before. In order to excel in the face of increasing competition and to stay relevant, it is of particular importance for companies to continuously invest time and money into maintaining close customer-contact and building trust. For businesses this means – you might have heard the buzz words – they need to ‘listen’ to their customers and understand their needs by monitoring customer-to-customer conversations and creating sincere personal dialogue with them.

A popular business concept based on such deliberations, aiming to integrate the social component into existing CRM concepts, is called “Social CRM”. It was popularised by CRM thought leader Paul Greenberg in 2009 and gained an increasing amount of attention in academic and professional circles in the past years. Critics of the concept claim that it is simply a rehashing of old ideas such as relationship marketing or customer engagement applied to social media, or that it is just a fad hyped by vendors and consultants that will eventually burn out. It was also discussed if there is a need rather for “Community Relationship Management” or “Customer Experience Management” and the likes – it depends to a major extent on the definition of the concepts. It is true that the underlying idea of traditional CRM as a business concept has always been to create brand awareness and trust, acquire new customers and build relationships, yet in face of this radical changes in the business environment it is necessary to integrate social media as a vital component into existing CRM concepts. This can, or rather should include elements of community management, lead management, sales conversion, personal dialogue and customer experience management. Whereas social media tools are currently primarily used in the fields of Marketing, Sales, Service & Support, in the long term, specific tools might be increasingly used in the areas of R&D, enterprise collaboration and other business units such as HR, Finance and IT – turning the firm into a so called “social business”. However, to get there, it might still take some time and technological progress.

So how can companies implement a Social CRM strategy?

In times of Facebook’s cut of organic reach, or Google’s umpteenth algorithm change, a proper Inbound Marketing Plan based on valuable content is more important than ever. It should be the basis of all online activity.

The following infographic, created by the US agency ‘Impact Branding & Design’, shows an ideal inbound marketing process, which highlights the importance of lead generation and sales conversion as crucial strategic components:

The Inbound Marketing Process - InfographikOperational Measures

In order to create and disseminate the right content, it is important to understand the buying decision making process and adapt one’s marketing measures accordingly. I recently conducted a small-scale online survey as well as some customer and expert interviews in the course of my Master Thesis which dealt with Social CRM in the premium car industry in Germany. Some of the outcomes can however serve as point of reference for other industries. In the following, I will present the main conclusions drawn, with regard to the crucial stages in the buying decision making process:

  •  Initial Consideration Stage – Brand Awareness
    At that stage of the buying decision process, social media are particularly useful to inform people about new product launches or brand related news and encourage them to share news, pictures and videos. The content should be relevant, engaging and share-worthy for the respective target-group. Furthermore, it is important to give the brand a ‘face’: A CEO who is active on social networks, who publishes statements and responds to people’s questions, e.g. in so called “twitterviews”, appears more friendly and approachable, which has direct positive effect on the brand image. As mentioned earlier, it is also important to monitor conversations, in order to be able to capture trends early and react quickly to negative mentions to avoid a PR crisis.
  • Category Need – Triggers
    The survey results indicate that the most engaging, liked and shared content in social networks are first and foremost pictures, followed by videos and other interactive content. Long text passages should be avoided, yet a link should direct the user to the corporate website or blog, where they can access further detailed product/ service information.
  • Exploration Stage – Search for Information
    In order to encourage customers to use an app, visit a website, blog or platform and spend time with your brand, it is particularly important for companies to specify their online value propositions – meaning the unique value delivered to them (e.g. through experiences or content). To generate leads, it is important to include specific “call-to-action” elements (e.g. “sign up for the newsletter and receive this whitepaper now for free”). Since comparison and review websites become more and more popular, it gets increasingly difficult for companies to hide unloved things. Hence, it is of great importance for a company to be as honest and transparent as possible in order to create trust, especially in times of PR crises. A proactive measure to create trust is to provide comparison tools/ overviews of different products and brands directly on your website.
  • Evaluation – Decision Making and Purchase
    The annual ‘Edelmann Trust Barometer’ study results indicate that “a person like me” is by far the most trusted source. In order to generate customer-satisfaction and positive word-of-mouth, businesses should for one thing put all effort in product/ service quality and for another thing nurture opinion leaders and advocates in social networks, with the help of attractive incentives, such as invitations to events and brand experiences.
  • Post Purchase – Loyalty/ Advocacy
    The post-purchase stage is a ‘make-or-break’ for the future loyalty of a customer to the brand. If they experience a disappointing service, they will directly associate it with the company in the future. For this reason, a particular focus should be put on the services quality (“Was the customer satisfied with at the end of the conversation?”, “Was the personnel friendly and helpful?”), the speed of response and the reachability of service personnel. In addition to traditional channels such as telephone, email and personal, in some cases it can make sense to offer mobile service apps or online chat services, yet traditional channels were still preferred by most interviewees, since they are more personal, more in-depth questions can be asked, and the customer feels more valued by the company if treated respectfully.

Summary – The 5 most important Social CRM components

  1. Give the brand a ‘face’ – be communicative, helpful and approachable
  2. Create share-worthy interactive content with added value to the target group (e.g. podcasts, webinars, whitepapers, apps, vlogs)
  3. Create trust through honesty and transparency – admit mistakes and be proactive
  4. Create positive word-of-mouth through product/service quality, nurture opinion leaders and advocates
  5. Deliver excellent customer service – never close a complaint case before the customer is happy about the solution

What is your take on the topic? How important are social media for your company and your CRM strategy? Have you experienced any problems with implementing a Social CRM strategy (e.g. compatibility issues with existing lead management systems and processes)? I would be happy to hear your thoughts in the comments.

For further information on the survey or my Master Thesis, please don’t hesitate to send me a mail via the contact form below.


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