• May 11, 2010
  • By David Rich, managing director, CRM practice, Accenture

The New Behavior of the Social Customer

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Imagine a do-it-yourselfer opting to hook up the components of a new home-theater system herself. What if the process turns out to be more complex than anticipated? Back in the day, that person might’ve called the electronics store she purchased from, or sought assistance by dialing a toll-free number listed in the product manual. Today, instead of contacting the seller or manufacturer, she’d go online, lament on Twitter about the incomprehensible directions, reach out to Facebook buddies, and ask her social network to offer guidance. 

Consumer behavior is very different today than it was when CRM was born in the early 1990s. Every company must adjust accordingly, positioning itself as a resource not only to service a customer—through whatever channel or channels the customer chooses—but also to attract, upsell, and cross-sell for repeat business. 

With more than 400 million Facebook users each listing an average of 130 friends, and more than 65 million people twittering about everything and anything, social media now has a leading role in customer behavior and expectations. Companies need to get ahead of this curve, or consumers will direct the future of their brands. 

The right data is critical—too much data and the insights from it will be too few. With the right data, companies can create an integrated framework that (a) employs quantitative methods to derive actionable insights from data, then (b) uses those insights to shape business decisions and improve outcomes—this is analytics.

The application of analytics to customer data can enable companies to design multichannel approaches based on a thorough understanding of customer preferences in channel, product and service features, pricing, and behavior from consideration to post-purchase. While that may inform the required CRM architecture for a specific point in time, in today’s world this can’t just be a one-time effort. 

As soon as a company sets its CRM blueprint to include a social CRM strategy, a competitor will up the ante, driving more demand for new and better services, information, and access to the product or the service itself. Keeping pace requires that companies have the flexibility to make incremental changes at Internet speed and manage services and content accordingly. 

Not all customers have the same needs and preferences. What appeals to a key segment online may not appeal to those who use more traditional channels. Social CRM requires a framework that allows a company to experiment and monitor the resulting consumer behavior to determine what works. Companies, for example, must integrate their own data with quantitative or qualitative information gained from other sources to obtain a more-complete view of what their customers want. 

There may be richer, deeper opportunities earlier in the marketing process that enable dialogue with prospects and customers. This dialogue can help the company to build relationships and influence buyer choices much earlier in the process. Some companies have used social CRM, for example, to open sales windows to customers otherwise out of reach; others have made millions using Twitter as a marketing and sales channel. Today’s customers, however, also use social media to seek out service themselves. Consumers expect help to be available online, but that’s just the beginning. A savvy company can also unearth and proactively address customer concerns before they damage the business. Companies should:

  • integrate their online customer forums with internally developed knowledge management systems; 
  • redefine the roles of their contact centers to improve responsiveness regardless of the service channel; 
  • integrate each customer interaction into individual customer records to deliver more-cohesive service; 
  • combine unstructured (emails and blogs) and structured (databases) data; and 
  • use low-cost, offshore engineering resources and a new generation of automated tools to collect and sift through data to glean insights about customer experiences. 

By integrating social CRM and customer strategy, you can improve your market position with better services, lower operating costs, and higher performance. 

David Rich (david.b.rich@accenture.com) is the managing director of the CRM practice at Accenture, a company that specializes in management consulting, outsourcing, and systems integration technology.

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