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Brands taking to Social CRM for two-way communication

The biggest challenge brands on social media face is how to engage the thousands of fans they have acquired. A mere ‘Like’ isn’t sufficient and most of these fans aren’t repeat visitors to their social web page, making messages a monologue. So how does one manage a two-way dialogue between the consumer and the brand. Brand experts and digital evangelists suggest a customised relationship with messages and responses that can be achieved through Social CRM (Customer Relationship Management) – the next generation social networking tool.

Carolyn Baird, Global CRM Research Leader, IBM Global Business Services in a report released by IBM on social CRM, reiterates the fact that on social media, companies are no longer in control of the relationship. “Instead, customers (and their highly influential virtual networks) are now driving the conversation, which can trump a company’s marketing, sales and service efforts with unprecedented immediacy and reach,” she writes.

She feels that while consumers obviously want more; they want to engage in a conversation with the brand, get their questions answered, with a rapid turnaround at that, but brands often do not have a clue how to handle that.

Go social with CRM
Become an experience driven organisation, is Baird’s solution to the social puzzle; and that can be achieved through Social CRM. “Companies need to embrace this shift with a new strategy – Social CRM, which recognises that instead of managing customers, the role of the business is to facilitate collaborative experiences and dialogue that customers value,” she says.

Whilst traditional CRM is sales-driven, Social CRM is a strategy for customer engagement and is conversation-driven, where sales are a by-product. One company that is seriously looking at Social CRM is Chinese Micro blogging site, Sina Weibo. According to Ken Hong, General Manager, Sina Weibo, the company is now implementing the first stages of Social CRM, where every social response is looked at to convert into a meaningful dialogue. Hong and his team, constantly monitor the company’s social data to create different experience pages based on that. He feels that while brands focus on creating a large fan base, they do not put enough thought on what to do with that fan base. “The thought should be on growing the relationship, and turn mere fans into BFFs (Best Fans Forever) who move from being just fans to your loyal customers,” Hong adds.

According to the research done by IBM Institute for Business Value, there is a vast gap in understanding between consumers and businesses on why they should connect over the social network. While the businesses feel that social networks are there to tell the brand story and introduce new products, in reality the consumers want more tangible value – discounts and coupon – from their social interactions with a brand.

While engaging over the social network is a must for brands, but as a long term strategy to retain customers and build loyalty, they should look at investing in social CRM strategies, feels Barney Loehnis, Head of Digital, Ogilvy Asia. “(Brands need to) build a social community first over social media to create a kind of a meeting place and then deepen the interaction and maintain a dialogue and acknowledge the value of their opinion,” says Loehnis giving pointers on how to build the CRM aspect of the social media presence.

In fact, Ogilvy Digital is offering Social CRM as a service to its existing clients who want to deepen their social conversations with their customers. However, the Southeast Asian market is lagging behind in its adoption as most businesses are still grappling with their understanding what social media marketing is all about. “We tell our clients who are already engaging with their audience in the social media space to start thinking about Social CRM, and to create interesting dialogue, and add value to the social engagement. We tell our clients to acknowledge the value that each of their fans add to the brand. That is a great way to initiate Social CRM strategy,” he explains.

So the lesson here is that unlike in traditional customer relationship management, in social CRM, the trick is to maintain a dialogue with the customer rather than manage the customer itself. This is summarised aptly by noted CRM guru and author Paul Greenberg, in his book, ‘CRM at the Speed of Light’: “The underlying principle for Social CRM’s success is very different from its predecessor… traditional CRM is based on an internal operational approach to manage customer relationships effectively. But Social CRM is based on the ability of a company to meet the personal agendas of [its] customers while, at the same time, meeting the objectives of [its] own business plan. It is aimed at customer engagement rather than customer management.”

CRM will move to mobile
Even as brands get ready for implementing their CRM strategies in the social media space, they cannot forget the ubiquitous mobile platform and the device. Many companies will start to develop their CRM apps for mobile platform to enable their customers to connect with them over the mobile device. In fact Gartner predicts that mobile CRM apps available for download on app stores will grow to over 1,200 by 2014 from over 200 in 2012.

“Many organisations want to extend their customer service to the mobile platform market. However, the reality is that not all apps make a good mobile application,” explains Johan Jacobs, Research Director at Gartner. Today, it’s not just customer relationship, but customer experience management that is becoming a priority for businesses globally.

Going forward, what will be important for the businesses when developing their CRM strategy, whether for the social media or for the mobile platform are the access devices which are primarily smartphones and tablets. Jacobs advises brands to keep CRM apps for mobile or social CRM pages clutter-free, which load easily and do not look messy with too many messages.

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