• August 25, 2009
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Calling All Social Customers

For a look at destinationCRM's complete coverage of CRM Evolution '09, click here.

For all the live-twittering, follow @CRMe09 on Twitter, or see all the tweets under the hashtag #CRMe09.

NEW YORK — Kicking off CRM magazine's annual conference here this week was a keynote presentation from Paul Greenberg, president of The 56 Group and chairman of this year's event. Speaking to a mixed audience that also included attendees of SpeechTEK 2009 -- an annual conference hosted by CRM's sister publication, Speech Technology magazine -- Greenberg found that, despite the seemingly discrete areas of expertise, there was one underlying concern the two audiences had in common: the customer.

Marrying the capabilities of speech technology and the strategies of CRM, Greenberg's presentation, "Voice of the (Social) Customer," suggested that companies are mistaken if they believe they're in the midst of "a business revolution." In fact, Greenberg told the crowd, everyone -- consumers and organizations alike -- is going through "a social revolution," driven by a change in how we communicate.

Greenberg began with an informal poll of the audience:

  • Roughly 30 percent were users on Twitter (which was named one of CRM magazine's Rising Stars in 2008);
  • an astounding 90 percent claimed they used Facebook (though only 10 percent or so said their companies have found a business use for the networking site, revealed on Monday to be named one of CRM's Rising Stars for 2009);
  • about 30 percent claimed to have used online reviews (though more hands went up when the question was refined to include "restaurant reviews"); and
  • a smaller percentage reported submitting their own reviews.

"Not only do you have customers," Greenberg said, "you are a customer -- and you're a social customer, because you do these things." More specifically, Greenberg characterized the typical social consumer as someone who:

  • is connected 24/7;
  • communicates through multiple channels;
  • enters the conversation with accelerated and enhanced expectations;
  • relies on trusted sources, namely peers.

This has given rise to what Greenberg called "Generation C" -- the connected generation -- which supersedes age boundaries to include anyone who twitters over, blogs about, comments on, or consumes Web content. The social, or connected, customer communicates with an audience she may never meet in the physical world, but whose conversations may be extremely helpful or detrimental to a corporate brand. According to Forrester Research, Generation Y is the first generation to spend more time on the Internet than on television consumption -- 12.2 hours a week online versus 10.6 hours a week watching TV.

Greenberg also cited statistics from Nielsen's March 2009 "Global Faces and Networked Places": Community forums and blogs are the fastest-growing uses of the Internet (5.6 percent) and member communities reach more Internet users (66.8 percent) than emails do (65.1 percent). Companies, Greenberg noted, need to figure out how to merge unstructured data from the Internet with the conversations they can already capture (e.g., email, calls to the contact center, etc.). "You have to meld the two to figure out what they're saying," Greenberg told the crowd.

Because of the rising social trend, consumers are demanding and expecting much more from every institution they interact with. This trend, Greenberg said, came about most prominently as business and personal lifestyles began to intersect. Peer trust increased in relevance as consumers looked to "a person like me," to help them in their decision making. Eventually, Greenberg said, the demand has extended to the search for "a company like me." Consequently, this has forced companies to adopt two critical principles:

  • transparency; and
  • authenticity.

As consumers get bombarded with an increasing number of messages, companies are no longer just dealing with their direct competitors, Greenberg suggested. They're competing with all the other noise out there. Another informal poll revealed that audience members admitted outright having thrown away snail-mail advertisements before even reading about the enclosed offers. That's why companies must develop not just customer data, but customer insight. It's not enough just to have loyal customers anymore, Greenberg said, companies now need to foster advocates -- those who can spread your message further than you or your company could ever accomplish alone. Unfortunately, he added, companies have to account for human nature: the fact that people love to complain more than they like to praise.

In a 2007 study led by RightNow Technologies and United Kingdom–based news portal YouGov, 69 percent of the 2,800 survey participants reported having complained to a company as many as five times -- of those, only 60 percent actually expected their complaints to be resolved.

Sales was once the central driving force for business, Greenberg said, but responsibility has recently shifted to the customer service department. Addressing the SpeechTEK atendees directly, and referring to the speech technology offerings they hold dear, Greenberg said that "the work you do becomes increasingly responsible for the company and the customer." The contact center, he added, "is the most emotional point of interaction."

In fact, according to a study by DMG Consulting, 77 percent of consumers still consider the phone the best way to interact with the enterprise. Moreover, Forrester finds that, when it comes to customer service, even the most highly digital constituents -- Gen Y -- prefer phone calls (41 percent) over store visits (35 percent) and email (6 percent).

A simple voice call can be dissected for its context, keywords, phrases, emotion, and tempo, Greenberg said, all of which companies can then interpret and use to extract customer insight. Greenberg highlighted several technologies that can help companies improve and enhance customer service:

  • text and sentiment analytics;
  • speech analytics;
  • critical-chain project management systems to monitor first-call resolution, root-cause analysis, next-best action, and customer experience analytics;
  • social media monitoring;
  • automated voice response and interactive voice response; and
  • Web self-service.

Inasmuch as the role and impact of the social consumer has increased in today's market, Greenberg stressed the fact that, while they may control the conversation, they do not control the business.

"You still have to make business decisions," Greenberg said, but then warned companies that the absence of change will lead to suffering. Luckily, companies -- or, more to the point, the social employees who work at them -- don't have to start from scratch:

"You are a social customer," Greenberg said. "Think like one."

CRM Evolution '09 runs through Wednesday in New York. Full coverage can be found here.

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine. You may leave a public comment regarding this article by clicking on "Comments" at the top; to contact the editors, please email editor@destinationCRM.com.

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