Is Social Customer Care Ready for a Comeback?

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Social media has become ubiquitous in consumers’ daily lives, so it is not surprising that its vast tentacles reached into CRM systems and has had a growing hold on how companies service their customers. The repercussions have been fewer than pundits projected at first, but the influence grows larger as dividing lines among business applications continue to fall.

Social CRM is an evolving, imprecise term, one created after social media’s birth more than a decade ago. As individuals started to spend more and more time on Facebook and Twitter, new conduits emerged that corporations could use to communicate with customers. Quickly, social media evolved from a place where consumers connected with friends and shared photos to a powerful business and consumer service, marketing, and sales channel.

Every company has recognized social media’s potential power. “Social CRMs allow businesses to extract and make sense of social data that supports decision making across their entire organizations,” notes Ryan Barretto, president of Sprout Social. Therefore, corporations are trying to embrace it and create new customer interactions.

At a high level, social CRM connects social media services and monitoring solutions to CRM systems. Just about all corporations have incorporated social media in some way into their CRM systems as well as their marketing and sales initiatives. The change fits with the industry megatrend of replacing traditional, limited views of a customer with a fuller picture. The ultimate goal is to clearly illustrate to any employee working with customers who they are, what products or services interest them, what they bought lately, and what services they might need now and into the future.

How the integration is done and how deep it goes can be a fraught process, because as soon as one piece is put into place, another one emerges. Compounding the problem, business applications designed for one specific function are not easily extended into other areas. So the process of expanding social media is complex and strewn with potential pitfalls. To date, progress has been made in melding CRM and social media in select areas, but more work remains before most organizations fully take advantage of its vast potential.

As social media became all the rage, tools surfaced to help enterprises manage such exchanges. Initially, the products focused on listening to social media conversations, so any time that a company and its products were discussed, the firm knew what was said.

Currently, most firms have deployed such solutions. They track a range of mentions: conversations about the company; discussions about its products and services; talk about key people within the company; and targeted keywords.

Such monitoring is important for a couple of reasons. One benefit is that the enterprise might uncover a customer complaint posted publicly on social media rather than being handled privately. “Corporations view social media as another CRM data source,” notes Paul Greenberg, managing principal of the 56 Group. “If a customer complains on Twitter, an employee will respond and try to take care of the problem. In effect, they open up one more type of trouble ticket and track the incident to its eventual resolution.”

Businesses want to be aware of any public bad news, but more important, they want to try and prevent it from becoming a top 10 trending item. Such negative publicity damages the company, as Ticketmaster discovered when its systems malfunctioned when Taylor Swift concert tickets went on sale.

Online public problems sometimes ripple through the company and impact customer-facing departments. Customer complaints spread, call volume rises, and management needs to find ways to reverse customers’ strong negative feelings and mitigate the potential damage. Because of its real-time capabilities and its vast reach, social media has become the primary avenue to recognize and mitigate the potential damage stemming from such snafus.


Social media also has had an impact on how enterprises communicate with customers. In the past, the contact center focused on voice only. Now, corporations interact with clients via a large and growing number of communication channels, with email a popular form of interaction and chat support also becoming ubiquitous. And many customers now communicate, gather information, and even make purchases through social media outlets. Consequently, firms added links from their CRM systems to popular social media communications mechanisms, like Facebook Messenger.

However, firms find that managing ad hoc application deployments is vexing. As technology evolved, the way that corporations interacted with customers grew: Sales reached out with content, and CRM addressed complaints. Each department stored information autonomously. Consequently, barriers among departments developed.

When calling companies, customers do not see departments, even though they exist. They see a single entity and expect every person in the company to recognize who they are and provide them with needed assistance.

Corporations have been trying to meet that expectation. Breaking down traditional barriers starts by collecting the dispersed customer information. Rather than supplying just one piece of the client’s interactions, the system provides employees with a complete profile. Social media plays a growing role in outfitting team members with the full customer view. They provide profile data, all social contacts, and every previous social conversation. Companies are now trying to leverage such information to improve service, support, and sales.

Social media can be used in sales by helping businesses build relationships with potential customers. The social tools track when an online profile engages with company content or uses keywords that the organization is monitoring. These interactions become possible sales leads. “Increasingly, B2B field sales teams use LinkedIn to nurture leads and add context when approaching a prospect,” notes Jay Wilson, vice president of research in the Gartner Marketing Practice.

Social channels are content-rich and have become a marketing campaign aid. Beyond basic messaging, they support image sharing, video posting, news curation, and textual content creation.

The management tools watch how users interact with the different types of content and provide valuable insights. They help the company develop the right approach to engaging with prospects, planning their content calendars, scheduling all social posts, and ideally closing sales.

In addition, social media is influencing customer service teams. Agents want to interact with people, not just profiles. Customer service has been trying to become more personalized and less cookie-cutter. The more agents understand about the customer, the deeper they can engage with them.

“Social media tells a lot about the person: what they are interested in and how many followers they have,” Wilson says. “If the system identifies someone as an online influencer, they may take extra steps servicing them.”

Also, social CRM transforms customer service from passive to active. Social CRM doesn’t limit service reps to speaking only to clients who contact the company. With it, the company can listen to what people are saying among themselves. The organization then proactively reaches out and responds to anyone who has a question or an issue.


Organizations’ end goal is to integrate social media into marketing, sales, and customer service so the business can create a comprehensive picture of each client. This omnichannel strategy offers many potential benefits.

Companies use social/marketing/CRM data to understand the true value of each lead and every customer. The ultimate goal is to tie customer interactions on social networks and others directly to business outcomes, like a purchase.

However, building such a system is time-consuming and complex, both technically and managerially. Companies want to leverage all of their information, but consolidating it is laborious. How a chat interaction occurs is much different than an email or a voice call, both in terms of how the event unfolds as well as the information that is captured. “CRM systems were not built with a focus on customer journey orchestration,” Greenberg notes.

Therefore, tweaking these systems to support the new functionality is cumbersome, and frankly, progress has been mixed. Select industries and companies are well down the path, but others are taking their first steps.

On the plus side, the number of times that customers have to repeat their names, addresses, and contact data as they move through the process is declining.

However, customers still encounter corporate barriers. According to a Salesforce study, more than three-quarters (76 percent) of customers say they expect consistent interactions from all departments. But more than half (54 percent) say that teams do not seem to share information. As a result, they get different responses from sales, service, and marketing personnel, which is frustrating. Employees are cognizant of the problems too. Only 10 percent of marketers say they had effectively connected social data with an enterprise CRM, according to a Hootsuite report.

Vendors have various tracks available to them to address the problems. They can acquire other companies and build out their solution suites. An alternative is signing joint development and marketing agreements to fill in such voids. In such cases, their technology teams are empowered to develop the connectivity needed to integrate social and CRM solutions.

Even as the technical issues are slowly being addressed, businesses encounter other hurdles. They want their internal technology teams working on front-end features. However, they find themselves spending a lot of time tying systems together and monitoring how well their integrations function—and in all too many cases, it is not so well.

Social media is a highly volatile, rapidly changing market, one where companies need to stay abreast of the latest trends. As new platforms emerge, organizations need to quickly integrate them into their operations.

Keeping up with customers’ ever-changing social media habits requires time and effort and can be frustrating. One day, a social media platform is all the rage, and the next day, it has become passé. Consequently, businesses constantly chase their tails when folding social media channels into their CRM solutions. Once one job is done, another is needed.

Furthermore, employees desire consistency, and change creates the unknown, which makes them uncomfortable. The rapid changes now occurring often unsettle customer service, sales, and marketing teams. They have to learn how to use different tools and complete their work in novel ways.

As a result, employees frequently need to develop new skills as they make the transition. “Some customer care agents are great on the phone but not as good with written communication, which is used with social media,” Wilson says. Cross-training them on both produces mixed results. Some individuals are simply better writers than talkers and vice versa. As a result, employees become intimidated, and buy-in and support for the new capabilities become hard to attain.


Collecting data is only the first step in leveraging it. With the large and constantly growing volume of data that is available nowadays, firms struggle to identify information that is useful to them. Sometimes, they get lost in the minutia, focus on the wrong data, and waste time and effort.

Their emphasis needs to be much less on collecting and then correlating information and more on transforming customer data into clear corporate initiatives. But the process of gathering customer data from social profiles, organizing it, designing effective customer service strategies, and analyzing the outcomes takes a lot of time, effort, manpower, and money. Often, there are no immediate results. Therefore, the process entails a lot of trial and error. Persistence and patience are needed before tangible results become clear.

The end result is that social CRM has vast potential but creates significant challenges. To date, the positive outcomes have been unevenly distributed.

“Airlines, travel, and hospitality corporations have done well in integrating social platforms, like Twitter, into their customer care systems,” Wilson says. “They know who their frequent fliers are and frequently reach out to them when issues arise.”

Other industries are lagging behind, ranging from a little to a lot.

Social media’s impact has been large and ever-expanding. Corporations have added social media monitoring tools and been integrating them into their CRM, sales, and marketing operations. Progress has been made, but more work is needed for organizations to optimally map social media customer reactions to other functions and maximize the tremendous potential that a consistent view of the customer offers. 

Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance writer who specializes in technology issues. He has been covering speech technology issues for more than two decades, is based in Sudbury, Mass., and can be reached at paulkorzen@aol.com or on Twitter @PaulKorzeniowski.

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