• February 25, 2011
  • By Koa Beck, Editorial Assistant, CRM magazine

Customers Becoming Salespeople

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Most social media instructional books provide “bread crumbs” to companies intrigued with the idea of social media, according to Robert Wollan, Nick Smith, and Catherine Zhou. In The Social Media Management Handbook, however, these authors sought to provide cross-departmental advice for creating a holistic approach to conquering Twitter and Facebook. Wollan, managing director of CRM solutions at Accenture, spoke with editorial assistant Koa Beck about the social media hype, why customer power is increasing, and the myth that every company has a compelling Twitter feed.

CRM magazine: Early in the book, you point out ways in which social media is not a new phenomenon. Why was it necessary to make that point?

Robert Wollan: Despite the media attention and hype, the majority of companies either don’t execute social media actively as part of their business strategies or don’t do it comprehensively.

CRM: You say social media can be difficult for companies to embrace because of the “giving up control” factor and because consumer demand for power has steadily increased. Why is social media still so scary for many companies?

Wollan: Historically, when we talk about the rise of the power of the consumer, we talk about rebalancing, changing what you already do but doing it through the lens of the customer. Take pricing, for example. Think about how customers looked at pricing and comparisons online. That didn’t introduce a whole lot of change, except you had to appreciate that the customer had more information and you had to be willing to adjust your pricing. It was a new reality of having to respond to a customer. It’s the same thing with committing to timelines. Remember the day when they said, “Please expect four to six weeks for delivery”? The customer actually said, “No, you need to offer me five shipping options, and you want to give me tracking.” Those were historical responses to the rise of the power of the customer.

CRM: Contrast that with the power of social media.

Wollan: We are not talking about rebalancing or adjusting what you do. You are truly giving up control of your brand. Customers are defining your brand. You are moving the hyper-controlled marketing media environment where you could control the message—when it’s delivered, when it’s published, and to whom it’s published—versus viral, which has varying levels of detail, quality, and accuracy. Customers can establish how they want to use your products, in ways you might never have intended or wanted. Anyone can step up and have an opinion. Today with social media, the new challenge is all about the elements you can’t control, not the ones to which you need to react faster.

CRM: I liked your point about social media being functional as well as emotional. Can you elaborate?

Wollan: Social media requires a unique blend of engaging the heart and the head, so when you talk to an executive team, you want to ensure they understand social media isn’t merely a channel. Social media has an emotional element. It’s part of how you execute your experience or how you leverage this capability. Social media has a sense of urgency that doesn’t really exist in the channel that you’re using, but rather the consumer dynamic that drove it.

CRM: You also discuss how social media, blogs, and YouTube have created many more touch points. Is “the customer as customer service” where customer service is going?

Wollan: It’s not where it’s going; it’s already there. Companies realize customers consistently trust answers from other customers or the world at large more than they trust the info that they’re given. That probably comes from three things: a historical issue with delivering consistent customer service, an increase in the availability of information online, and an interest by people to provide it.

Another point we cover is how everyone is a marketer and everyone is a salesperson. You find the same dynamic where social media gives you the chance to create influencers who then become your extended salespeople. All they want is some support. They want to recommend you to their friends if you provide a good experience.

CRM: You say social media has finally exposed the shortcomings of traditional customer research. Will social media eventually do away with traditional customer research?

Wollan: There are blind spots in traditional customer research when trying to react to the faster-paced, broader view that social media has brought into context. Traditional customer research won’t go away until traditional customers do. Most companies have between 20 percent and 30 percent of their customers active in social media. If you appreciate those elements of your business that you want to enhance, augment, or tailor to social media, that would be an appropriate response. Because you have traditional customers, traditional research will give the answers you need to make good decisions, and that’s why it still exists.

Assistant Editor Koa Beck can be reached at kbeck@destinationcrm.com.

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