In today's hyper social world, customers are likely to voice a complaint or offer a compliment about your product, service or business on Twitter or Facebook. And woe to the organization that does not acknowledge or respond to that Facebook or Twitter post promptly.
Indeed, today, it is difficult to separate social media management from customer relationship management (CRM)--hence the increasing number of social CRM services. But just having a social CRM offering is not enough. Just like any technology, you have to first pick a customer engagement and management solution that is right for your organization and create a strategy and guidelines around using it.
To help you devise a successful social CRM strategy, CIO.com queried dozens of CRM, social CRM and social media experts. Here are their top 17 tips.
1. Make sure you have a good platform for conducting social CRM. "Select a comprehensive social media management platform with rich listening, monitoring and engagement capabilities," says Meg Bear, vice president of Product Development at Oracle Social Cloud.
"Your social platform should also integrate seamlessly with other key enterprise applications like sales, marketing, service and commerce for a holistic approach that covers all customer touch points," she says. "It's a customer-centric world and your technologies should be connected with the customer at the center. No more one-off, point solutions."
2. Make sure you have the right resources. "Social is an unprecedented opportunity to deliver great service, but it is also a potential source of frustration for your customers if your team is not equipped to solve problems," says Justyn Howard, founder and CEO, Sprout Social, a social media management and engagement platform.
"Just as consumers have grown impatient with phone trees and hold time, there is growing frustration when social help requests are mismanaged," Howard says. "A common approach to social is to put marketing and PR professionals behind the wheel, but if they are not equipped to solve specific problems, the efforts can do more harm than good."
3. Identify and engage your social influencers. "Use social media tools like Simply Measured or Peak Analytics to identify who is driving the most conversation about your brand," says Katya Constantine, founder, Digishopgirl Media. Then "reach out to [those loyal users] and build a managed relationship with them."
4. Reward loyal customers. "For those engaging exclusively with your brand on social media, create a client loyalty code to retain those customers, a prospect discount code to entice them to buy, and reward positive feedback with handwritten notes and snail-mailed brand goodies," says Stacey Acevero, social media manager at cloud-based marketing provider Vocus.
5. Use list and group features. "The big three (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) make this easy," says Acevero. "For example, create (private) lists on Twitter in these categories: Clients, Prospects Who Have Considered Us, Positive Feedback from Clients, and Desired Clients or Influencers. Add people accordingly, and create social campaigns to keep each segment engaged."
6. Talk with your customers, not at them. "If your brand is looking to build a social media presence, make sure that you are having a two-way conversation with your customers," not just pushing information at them, says Constantine.
7. Respond to customers in a timely manner. "As important as the response itself is, you need to make sure you engage the customer as fast as possible," says Brian Coughlin, an SEO analyst at OpticsPlanet.com, an online seller of sports optics, hunting gear and sunglasses.
"If they have a question, you shouldn't wait hours before answering. If they have a complaint, it should be minutes before they have a personalized response," Coughlin says. "It's not easy to keep up to date on all your social accounts, but your customers will appreciate it and grow to trust you more and more as you improve."
8. Put a human face (or name) on your social media conversations. "In social media, friends and fans want to interact with 'real' people, not with companies or nameless flacks," states Peter Friedman, chairman and CEO, LiveWorld, a social content marketing company. "So when building relationships with customers through social media, be as human as possible.
That means your representatives on social should be encouraged to bring their own personalities to the table, within guidelines determined by your brand attributes and goals," Friedman says. "If you use a company username for Twitter, allow employees who tweet from that account to put their name at the end of messages so that readers understand there's an individual on the other end."
9. Make sure your social media messaging is consistent with your brand image. "The consumer wants to feel like they are talking to a real person, but you want to be sure the tone on your social sites is still in line with your company," says Chris Apaliski, the social media director at Dallas-based digital marketing agency Magic Logix.
"For example, a restaurant that derives a lot of profit from happy hour may be able to take a casual, laid-back tone; however, a big data company [should probably] be informational yet courteous," Apaliski says. "Know your business and audience and craft your strategy accordingly."
10. Monitor what your customers are saying so you can quickly respond. "One of the best ways to solve a problem is to anticipate it before it is presented to you," says Adam Root, CTO and cofounder of marketing software developer HipLogiq, parent company of social media apps SocialCompass and SocialCentiv.
"By monitoring social media feeds [for your company name and products] your business can immediately identify customer service issues and start to work on them before support tickets come in,"Root says.
In addition, "use tools like Google Alerts, Twilert.com, Newsle.com or CTOsOnTheMove.com (shameless plug) to be alerted when your clients get appointed, promoted or quoted in media, so you can congratulate them on their success," says Misha Sobolev, director, CTOsOnTheMove, which provides real-time sales leads to technology companies. "These little acts of kindness will show you are human and that you care--and will cement your business relationship better than a 100-page presentation."
11. Don't feed the trolls. "Trolls lurk in all corners of social media, waiting to stir up trouble with companies," says Alex Bard, senior vice president and general manager at Saleforce.com.
What or who is a troll? "A 'troll' is someone who posts provocative or off-topic messages only to get an emotional response from readers," Bard says. So before responding to an irate tweet or a nasty Facebook comment, "be aware of people's intentions and do not feed the troll by responding to inflammatory statements," he says. "It's important to know the difference between people encouraging controversy [or] just looking to get a reaction out of others" and those who may have a legitimate gripe.
12. Let customers know how and when to reach you. "Set customer service expectations by ensuring your brand's social pages display a statement about the page's purpose, including the hours in which the page is actively monitored and a timeframe in which customers can expect a reply," says Jon Schepke, CEO and founder of SIM Partners, a provider of local automated marketing solutions.
"If for some reason a customer is particularly displeased or requires extra assistance, take the conversation offline by providing an email address or phone number they can contact for direct support," Schepke says.
13. Use social profile data to augment contact information. "Social profiles provide rich demographic and psychographic information on your current customers," says Root. "By mining customer data from social profiles your marketing department can identify trends in your current customer base and target the right audience in future campaigns."
14. Unify and centralize your customer-related communications. "Conversations with your business prospects and existing customers happen everywhere including email, Twitter, Facebook and even your help desk ticketing system," says Root.
"Problems surface when communication is inconsistent across those lines. For example, when sales doesn't know a customer had a bad experience in response to a help desk issue, or when a customer doesn't get a reply back on Twitter," Root says.
"Having one portal where communication with your customers or prospects is available to everyone paints a comprehensive picture and allows problems to be solved quickly and lets your customer know that every department in your business is in tune.," Root says.
15. Post frequently asked questions on your Facebook page or provide links to your FAQ page. "Personally answering every question that comes through on social media can be a daunting (not to mention time-consuming and expensive) task for companies," says David Lloyd, CEO of IntelliResponse, a virtual agent software provider. So "investigate solutions that allow your company to automate company-approved answers to common questions on social," he says.
"Stakeholders can get the company's official answers to frequently asked questions in their channel of choice, allowing the company to remain at a distance, but jump in when necessary to offer personalized online support," Lloyd says.
16. Remember that social media isn't always the answer or the appropriate way to respond to a customer. "Today's customer is omni-channel and organizations must connect the experience and interaction sequence with every channel the customer is using," says Mark Smith, president, Provenir, the developer of customer lifecycle software for enterprises.
"Companies should recognize that an appropriate response to social events may not always be a social response but rather a cross-channel one. If a high-profile customer has a significant issue, an immediate call to their mobile may be more effective than a tweet," Smith says.
17. Do not ignore basic CRM functions. "Assigning tasks, logging call notes and following up on meetings may be considered 'old-school,' but they are just as important as ever," says Jon Ferrara, the founder and CEO of social CRM platform Nimble. "These are what your CRM is designed to do: keep deal flow on track. Neglect them at your peril."
Jennifer Lonoff Schiff is a contributor to CIO.com and runs a marketing communications firm.