Identifying and engaging with customers in social media must be the foundation of any long-term strategy. Thepoint of social media is enabling that closer connection with individuals. And, an important extension of that connection is addressing the totality of the discussion.
If a company is unable to address customers’ needs online, then its activities there run the risk of being undermined. Companies with a social media program in place already, however, are likely seeing the challenge presented by customers raising issues.
Addressing that challenge starts with a strategy. As the space heats up, and as technologies begin to flood the market, it’s important to understand the role of technology and the role of strategy. Because of the broad implications delivering customer service in social channels has on a company, these programs must be rooted in strategy. This is true not only because social software is still early in development, but also because of how responding in near real-time to these public exchanges between the customer and the brand fundamentally changes the approach and business processes necessary to function effectively in social media.
Planting the Seed
Interacting with customers through social channels requires a few foundational pieces:
- An inherent interest in improving relationships with customers
- An understanding of social context and how discussions evolve in social channels
- The willingness to take criticism seriously and act on it
- A business-wide, agreed-upon social framework (or at least someone willing to stick their neck out far enough to identify and document the need and develop a plan to address the social conversation)
- An official presence on the social Web (Twitter for a start, but also Facebook, and others as the social discussion continues to expand to other platforms)
- Cross-team collaboration and coordination
- Flexibility of internal processes to help facilitate and not impede issue resolution
- Executive buy-in and support (this can grow over time)
Taking the First Step
The first step is rarely the easiest. Confronting the unknown can be daunting if you don’t have perspective on what the universe of possibilities and options is. Like many things in this space, for socialCRM, it’s better to take things slow, gain an understanding of what people are saying about your company, and really dive into the cause and effect relationship between a customer’s experience and their expression of that experience. This first step is more commonly known as, “Listening,” — and while it does involve finding what people are saying about the brand online, it also involves more than just passively gathering intelligence. Companies must develop the ability to both listen and take action based on the ongoing conversations. Since listening alone can become an exercise of increased paranoia that doesn’t lead anywhere, successful companies build listening into an overall process that eventually leads to action and resolution.
Activating a Social Engagement Program
1) Quantify the level of discussion about your brand online by individuals – a Twitter search can give you a baseline of the discussion, but search other platforms as well to get a broader view
2) Measure the overall sentiment about your brand or product online (there are a number of tools for this)
3) Identify the top three to five issues people have with your brand each day; keep track of the specific words that are used to express those issues – they’ll come in handy in your SEM work
4) Take a handful of the issues, making up a representative sample by issue type, from the entire group of issues
5) Analyze each of the issues and the profile of the person who raised the issue initially
6) Map an engagement and resolution plan for each issue – don’t engage yet, but map the ideal or probable resolution path
7) Once you’ve accounted for a clear resolution path within the company to quickly get the issue addressed and resolved, then you can begin to activate a proactive program for addressing these issues on a broader scale
This exercise imparts initial and valuable insight into the realities of the social media sphere – both within the company, regarding its ability to resolve an issue through traditional channels, and outside the company, as it gauges the overall volume and tone of the discussions. With this understanding, companies can begin to map a path forward for the social CRM program.
In the next post, I’ll map the structure of a social media program that’s built to address customer issues in real-time, some of the challenges and how the social customer is the responsibility of the entire organization and should be the basis of any sustainable program.