CRM and the Social Media Conversation

Marketing, sales, and service teams each have their own unique interests in and, thus, approaches to social media interactions.

Social media conversation from business to customer has been a largely ad hoc affair to date. Some companies have used the direct interfaces of Facebook and Twitter to monitor the social noise that concerns them through simply having a company Facebook page or by crudely searching for the company name in Tweets. Others have used monitoring tools, which seek to filter out some of the noise out, or broaden the number of media sources a team can easily monitor through a single application.

As social media monitoring matures, it will undoubtedly fall back in line with more traditional thought patterns, even though it is a disruptive new technology. Quite simply, companies still want to do the same things, it's just the media and engagement model that's changing, not the simple goal of making money.

To that end the traditional goals of marketing, sales and service departments are largely unchanged. This is the key issue the next generation of tools will seek to realize. There is a fundamental difference between your objective as a marketer versus your objective as a customer service manager, and the tools you need differ as a result. Marketing wants to understand the groups and networks that form micro-segments, which can be thought of like a hyper-household. Hyper-personalization of advertizing is becoming the norm on Facebook, Amazon, eBay, and Google; based on the incredible wealth of data at the marketer's disposal, analytics are the key weapon. How to campaign via the right social channel to the right individual needs the classic tools of analytical models and feedback mechanisms with new capabilities to make sense of the cloudy world of social media, as well as the vast array of separate sources it represents. The frequency and trend of social media output is vital to understand; the importance of that channel will affect where campaigns are directed. Where something is being said, when, and by whom completes the picture.

A customer service manager (CSM) is much less concerned about where something is said or even who reads it. What customer service managers crave is to know the angry tweeter is actually customer ID 123, so they can contact her and resolve the core issue. The CSM needs a way to filter out the noise and get to the source, and how to take a public conversation into a private domain. Directly engaging a Facebook user who has posted on the company's page is easy, but your hope is they contact you through a traditional channel so you can actually help - the correlation of the well-placed Facebook response to the inbound call is almost impossible to make.

Offering a value exchange is one simple mechanism to persuade customers to handover the all-important Facebook or Twitter ID, special offers dedicated to those services or promise of avoiding a call center queue may be enough. Once the anonymous "facebooker" becomes the well-known customer, normal rules don't necessarily apply. Managing an interaction across public and private channels can be an expensive deal if there is no control in place. Responding to the public message in the same domain, then shifting the conversation to traditional telephone or email clearly adds extra steps, and the lack of integration between most monitoring platforms and CRM systems means costly hand offs. Managing the process through BPM in an integrated fashion can control both cost and consistency across channels. On the other hand, well-formed communities are an excellent mechanism of contact avoidance. Getting your customers to answer other customers' questions about how to fix your product is an incredibly cost-effective way to serve. Direct corporate participation in service communities ensures that the forum is well moderated, and, ultimately, the speed at which communities gather knowledge and new solutions can often outpace the enterprise. In this case, the CSM has much more direct control of the content, and users expect to need to personally identify themselves to gain access.

The impact of social media on your sales department is different again. The prospect's position in the buying process is crucial. Are they simply trying to find out more while in the education phase? Are they close to a buying decision that needs a nudge toward the best purchase channel to give the best margin or buying experience? Are they experiencing barriers that must be destroyed to win the business? If they've made the decision to buy, how can a salesperson influence how much they spend?

Of course, this situation ties to the marketing team. Additional analytics or a staged buying process may be needed to gather the data marketing needs to truly measure the effect of social engagement. The analytics of the sales process is key once more. Understanding that a customer has abandoned their shopping cart at the shipping costs page is the kind of data the sales organization needs to understand how to modify prices or how to make the right offer to entice a prospect to finally buy or to spend more. The community the customer service manager loves so much may be the bane of the sales manager's life, as all the experts say that the last version of the product you're trying to phase out is actually better than the one you're bringing in. You can't control, but you can participate and influence. As per the customer service manager, direct response can help influence perceptions if you can target the right channels and conversations.

Social media monitoring and analytics plays a role in all these scenarios, but the objectives and follow-up mechanisms differ. BPM is crucial to managing the sales and service messages that bubble up from these tools. Marketing and sales need to know the broad trends and heuristics, the service department needs to deal with the anonymity of much of what they see. There will be no one-size-fits-all solution here.

If you're getting into the social media game right now (and you should be), understand what you're trying to achieve and use the right tool for that goal. Also recognize that you might need more than one tool, or that you will have to support very different usage models to meet all your goals. Even if all three business areas want to simply monitor social media channels, the phrases, taxonomies, concepts, and sentiment scoring will differ. The emphasis on reporting trends versus individual engagement will vary, and the processes triggered by a monitoring event will differ, too.

The mechanisms for monitoring the many disparate social sources can be aggregated, but you will need to classify data to truly understand it. Customers may love their iPhones and send tweets of joy even if reviewers trash the bad reception on blogs and digital publications.

The language used in each of these digital worlds will vary too, so the taxonomies required to analyze it may need to be tuned. For example, abbreviation in tweets and specific keywords in managed communities may need to be understood depending on your industry. If you're a software manufacturer and you start seeing forum posts stating that your company has just been "pwn3d" by a "hax0r" and "w@r3z" are out there, get worried. If you're in the computer game retail business, it matters if your staff is regularly referred to as "suxx0rs" or "r0xx0rs." Classifying the source in which communications appear will help to keep taxonomies relevant, effective, and manageable. Using BPM to route these communications to the department is the crucial step in making use of these classifications.

You will certainly need to also segment your response strategy depending on the source, and this may even mean giving the job of responder to different people depending on the source. Clearly responding to a news article on is the job of the PR department, responding in 140 characters to a tweet message requires a very different skill set and represents a completely different value proposition-- and effectiveness of each will be measured in different ways.

Ultimately, clear direction and a defined process are required to deal with social media well.

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About the Author: Ian Henderson is operations director of Sword Ciboodle