How social media is changing customer relations

January 09, 2013 12:00 am | Updated 05:27 am IST

Today’s world is obsessed with social media. Apart from interacting with friends and finding jobs, social networks are also used by disgruntled customers as a platform to vent feelings about inferior products, harangue over insolent salesperson behaviour, criticise poor service and so on. The unresolved issues can even escalate into a full-blown customer service crisis. A negative company image in the minds of the online audience is not far away.

Organisations have also started using social media to market their products and services directly to the customer through a channel that they like best. Now how about taking customer relations to the next level by integrating social media in customer relationship management (CRM) systems?

Yes, organisations can go a step ahead and tap into the emerging power of social media by using it to monitor who is talking about the company, interact with customers online and engage them in a winning manner. The consumers are already out there talking– so what is stopping organisations from tapping into this amazing opportunity?

A recent study by customer service company, Genesys reveals that when it comes to reaching out to customers online, over 50% of consumer-facing Fortune 500 companies are what is being termed as ‘socially shy’. More than half of these top companies don’t provide their Twitter handle or a link to their Facebook profile on the contact pages of their website. In another leading study it was found that of the top 50 brands, 56% do not respond to a single customer comment on their Facebook page and a whopping 71% ignore customer complaints on Twitter. What’s more, 55% of consumers expect a response the same day to an online complaint, while only 29% receive one!

Optimising the power of social media

Customer interaction channels are constantly evolving from mail and telephone to email and SMS. But most of these offer only one-way communication, not to mention the nuisance of being constantly spammed with needless ‘custom offers’ and product recommendations. Customers don’t like dealing with automated telephone answering systems or even clueless call centre agents either. It’s frustrating and insensitive as customers end up feeling managed and not listened to, let alone helped!

At this juncture, social media comes as a breath of fresh air to humanise the company-customer interactions. Consumers can tweet directly to a company handle or post on their Facebook page and gain a genuine response. They can voice their complaints or give critical opinions that will be heard in real-time. This builds a reciprocal relationship of trust and empathy, bringing the consumers much closer to the company and promotes customer loyalty.

The market is flooded with ‘social CRM tools’ that enable organisations to track public sentiments online (social media sites and elsewhere) by keeping tabs on voices of dissent, dissatisfaction, complaints and other negative comments. By knowing who is talking about the company or its products, the customer service departments can quickly move to solve problems and rectify complaints. Just by accepting a mistake in a public forum and being willing to sort out the issue shows everyone that the organisation is always ready to help. This not only wins trust and loyalty from existing customers who turn into enthusiastic advocates of the organisation, but attracts new customers too who are definitely impressed by the level of service.

The key here is to be responsive – acknowledge the issue and reply as soon as possible about how the problem will be resolved. The focus is on providing actionable customer service and timely resolutions to complaints. So, companies should listen more rather than talking and respond rather than pitching!

A top organisation reports that it has witnessed a 75% reduction in customer service costs for a particular application ‘simply by listening more’. It also leads to accelerated sales as customers who interact with an organisation via social media spend 20-40% more on that one!

Therefore, organisations should quickly move to adding a social layer to their customer relations systems. Incorporating social channels in customer engagement and building an online personality will render more meaningful relationships with the end consumers. The unique competitive advantage is not far behind.

Payal Chanania

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