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Social CRM: The Game Changer for Companies That Want to Engage With Their Customers

02/18/2015 03:16 pm ET | Updated Apr 19, 2015

With eCommerce exploding and sales for products and services increasingly growing online, social media is a must-do for companies. But it takes more than a presence on Facebook or other social media sites to keep companies large or small connected with their customers.

The real game changer is Social CRM or social customer relationship management. Social CRM turns online relationships into real-time opportunities. It gives companies the chance to ramp up conversions and increase sales, bolster customer care and innovation, even streamlines business operations. In fact, Social CRM results in real ROI on a company's social media investment of time, employee participation and money.

Today's customer is ubiquitous and outspoken, particularly on social media where a customer's words are written not verbalized. When you consider this generic customer profile, you come to realize your customer is in control of the customer/company conversation. According to the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBMIBV), 72 percent of Boomers, and 89 percent and 79 percent of Generations X and Y participate in social media. Due to these consumers having access to information and intelligence in real time, these statistics display the pervasive power of consumers in online communities and networks. They are empowered influencers who hands down can make or break your company's reputation.

As a business owner or leader, you could be daunted by this imbalance. On the other hand, you could develop a Social CRM strategy geared toward the dynamics of the virtual environment. In this social media-driven community based environment, website visitors become loyal customers -- not because they are "soft" on a particular company's brand but because that company wrings out value from the online relationship.

That value translates to customers getting the special attention they feel they deserve when they buy a lot of product or service. That special attention could come in the form of discounts and coupons that will save them on their next purchase, a prompt response to an issue or trouble ticket, or even the appreciation for delivering on a customer suggestion for improvement.

Social CRM positions companies to take the good out of social media and designs online experiences that, according to Carolyn Baird IBMIBV global research leader, "deliver tangible value in return for a customer's time, attention, endorsement and data."

Baird's conclusions make sense in our current virtual environment. Her views, shared by many experts in the CRM sector, surely suggest there's risk for companies who fail to ride the social media wave.

Still, companies must be mindful. Rushing into social media without a strategy can lead to failure. When you're in a frenzy to leverage social media to enhance customer favor and gain market share, a rush to adoption without a strategy may end up being spotty and dangerous. So, yes, your company may use social media but if the usage is neither strategic nor integrated, you may not really be hearing what your customers want. Therefore, you run the risk of failing to fulfill their value expectations -- expectations that can be characterized by responsiveness, respect and real deals.

According to CRM guru Paul Greenberg in his book CRM at the Speed of Light, Social CRM is based on the ability of a company to meet the personal agendas of customers while, at the same time, meeting the objectives of [its] own business plan. In other words, you simply can't separate the social chatter from your business mission and value nor from your business objectives and operations. Social CRM strategy covers governance, workflow and guidelines that employees are actually trained to follow. It also includes a centralized function that ensures customer insights and organizational responses are shared, monitored and vetted throughout your company.

Here are some tips to help you keep your eye on the ball when developing and delivering on a Social CRM strategy:

Use a comprehensive technology platform to reach all customer touch points: Your platform should include listening, monitoring and engagement capabilities that can seamlessly integrate with other key enterprise applications like sales, marketing and customer care to foster a holistic customer approach that will enable you to manage the customer-controlled conversation.

Identify and engage your social influencers: Use social tools to identify who is driving the most conversation about your brand and reach out to them to foster a two-way dialogue and build a relationship.

Find creative ways to identify customer values: Dialogue and participation is the base of social media. Ask customers what they expect from your brand and do it creatively with polls, surveys, idea jams and posed challenges. Getting customers invested in the outcome will cultivate their brand ambassadorship and advocacy. That can only benefit your business.

Reward the loyalists: Create client loyalty and discount codes to keep this steadfast group coming back, either to purchase or to keep them engaged when they're not buying. This is imperative for those interacting exclusively with your brand. Up the ante even further: Turn to handwritten notes and brand trinkets via snail mail to reward positive feedback.

Respond in a timely manner: And this means quickly, especially if a customer has a question, even more so if he or she has a complaint. With the latter, you're talking a personal response in minutes. Overall, these actions deepen customer loyalty, appreciation and trust.

Put a human face on your brand: Friends and fans want to interact with "real" people, not a faceless organization. Allow employees who tweet from a company account to put their name at the end of a message. Encourage employees to inject their personality into a post, still keeping within brand voice and tone parameters as defined in the company's social media guidelines. Above all, talk with your customers, not at them. Remember, you're not just pushing information. You're having a two-way conversation that ultimately syncs coveted customer expectations with your company's business objectives and its culture, mission and vision.