Giffgaff avoided many common social media challenges by thinking strategically about social CRM from the company's beginnings. The mobile operator, a subsidiary of U.K.-based O2 that launched in September 2009, operates online only - customers buy its SIM cards online and can use them in any mobile phone. There are no brick-and-mortar stores and there are no call centers. Every customer interaction happens online.
Giffgaff hired Lithium Technologies to help develop its online customer community, with the goal of having it serve as a customer service resource, as well as a marketing research tool and a research and development area. The site receives 3 million page views per month; customers post questions, share new ideas, and search its knowledgebase, says Robbie Hearn, head of member experience. "It's our central hub."
In addition, giffgaff taps the community for idea generation. So far it has received more than 1,300 customer ideas and has implemented more than 240 of them. For example, giffgaff originally encouraged customers to recommend the company to friends by emailing them. Customers asked instead to direct friends to a personalized URL, bypassing the email channel. The new program launched in December. "It's more operationally efficient for us [by removing the email channel] while giving people what they wanted," Hearn says. In mid-2010, 25 percent of activations came from member referrals; in December 2010 it was up to 39 percent.
The company is also active on Facebook and Twitter, which it has integrated with its forum activities. Hearn says Facebook is primarily used for brand awareness, while Twitter is used to answer questions. Any questions posted to either Facebook or Twitter automatically feed into the forums, where they get answered by the community and posted back on the social networking sites. "It's a very satisfying model because we can work quickly and be exposed to brilliant ideas," he says.
Hearn says the company's biggest challenge is setting boundaries with customers. Being a transparent company, some of its customers expect to be involved in every decision. When the firm removed a product last year, for example, there was a community backlash because they were not consulted beforehand. "Transparency is a wonderful thing, but operationally it can lead to problems," Hearn says. "We could easily lose all the engagement we built up."
As a result, one of Hearn's goals for 2011 is to give customers a better sense on a granular level of what transparency means to the company. Financial information will remain private, for example, and the company may make certain decisions without customer input. "As long as we're open about the levels of involvement we expect from customers, they should be OK," he says. "We need to effectively communicate that with the community."