Though the age-old conundrum has had millions fighting an inconclusive battle for decades, we may never figure out which came first, the chicken or the egg. All we can truly agree upon is that, without one, the other simply could not exist. Much like their notorious counterparts, companies and customers have developed a cyclical codependence that makes it hard to tell where one leaves off and the other begins. However, any successful relationship requires equal parts give and take.
Although companies produce goods and services that consumers inevitably take for granted, those firms must continuously deliver engaging interactions that build a positive relationships with customers. In return, consumers reward those businesses with incremental sales, referrals, and loyalty that provide an advantage in an increasingly competitive market.
Done right, such practices--CRM strategies, that is--have helped myriad organizations better serve their customers based on deep customer insight, ultimately profiting from taking an individualized approach that fosters customer satisfaction, encourages advocacy, and build sales as if customer engagement were a product itself.
With the proliferation of social media, however, CRM alone is no longer enough. As the way people interact becomes a socialized virtual reality, many businesses have begun to expand their one-to-one practices to the Internet. Known as social customer relationship management (social CRM), companies are embracing social channels like online communities, social networking sites, and location-based services such as Foursquare to connect and collaborate with customers in order to bring them a more relevant, personalized experience.
Successful social integration does not simply mean creating a Facebook fan page or updating the company's Twitter feed, though. Social CRM means developing a conversation with consumers and learning what steps to take to better serve them in this fast-paced world of immediate results.
Unfortunately, some companies have failed to move forward, focused instead trying to decipher the perfect approach before jumping in and testing the waters. Ideally, businesses must act now and expand their customer engagement efforts--service, marketing, voice of the customer, even R&D and sales--to the social realm. Not as another siloed communication channel, but as an integrated part of the customer experience.
"Do you recall those commercials [that] showed some event where peanut butter and chocolate were combined for the first time?" John Bastone, global product marketing manager for customer intelligence for SAS, said in a 2010 interview with Inc.com. "'Two great tastes, that taste great together?' That's a good analogy for what's happening behind the scenes in organizations today. Combine social media chatter with website visits and see how social strategies drive traffic. Combine real-time social sentiment with real-time stock price to understand how social media is immediately shaping corporate outlook. Correlation is on the menu for 2011."