Social CRM: It’s about the strategy, not the technology

A recent New York Times piece took a look at how L.L. Bean has integrated social media into its customer care operations. Yes, the venerable Maine retailer’s call center still handles tens of thousands of calls daily. But now the customer care team also interacts with consumers on Facebook and Twitter where the company has some 50,000 monthly mentions—both positive and negative.

L.L. Bean joins a relatively small group of companies known for integrating social media into their CRM strategy. A small number because many businesses still silo social media in their marketing or e-commerce department to push out promotional messages, track brand insights, and augment the online experience with new features.

A recent MarketTools survey of businesses with annual revenue greater than $10 million showed nearly half of the respondents don’t think their customers comment or complain about their products and services online, while almost a quarter said they have no idea if they do.

As published by, the survey concluded that a whopping 66% of respondents are under-leveraging social media even though it can provide a wealth of valuable insights into customer preferences. Not only does the social analytics firm Bazaarvoice collect and track millions of product reviews across large retailers’ sites, many millions more appear in blogs and other social media platforms. Disconnecting those insights from CRM is a loss of touch that few companies can afford.

A social CRM approach

Social CRM incorporates customer and visitor engagement on social media platforms or websites within the larger processes of marketing, sales, and customer service. The goal is twofold: to interact with customers and potential customers on these platforms to improve their experience with the company, and to generate data that will improve the business and its processes.

Developing a social CRM approach starts with defining a customer engagement strategy in which social media is a foundation for future customer experiences. In this way social media becomes an enabler—another customer touch point as well as a gateway to gain deeper customer preference insights.

Ultimately this means assessing your business processes, technology, and work environment to determine how to integrate social media. This can be accomplished in stages using CRM tools in technology platforms that you may already have. But the key here is not the tools—it’s your strategy.

A high-tech manufacturer of consumer electronics we recently worked with has employed social media in its multichannel e-commerce operations to bring its products to market. The company also has an integrated multichannel contact center to support sales and service—but it lacked an integrated social CRM strategy.

We evaluated the company’s approach and assessed its CRM strategy against its goal of enabling anytime, anywhere customer interactions. Then we evaluated how social media could serve its sales and service goals, what tools the company needed to accomplish this, and how to measure success.

Not surprisingly, the company was using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to market its products and broadcast sales messages. But, with a social CRM strategy, it could do more—say, provide a targeted link to product information specific to the profile of the prospect or customer or provide specific customer services.

But, in the course of broadening its social media activities in this context, the company, had to identify potential challenges like answering service questions or responding to complaints in a public forum. This led to guidelines that enabled the online customer care team to identify opportunities and problems, and how to manage both.

In the final step of the planning process, we helped the company assess its current technology against what was needed to support the social CRM plan, which led to a roadmap for integration and deployment.

First steps

Most companies will find a stepwise approach using a controlled pilot can prove a social CRM plan’s value while limiting risk. Here are some simple steps to take:

1. Identify a specific, controllable marketing and/or customer care objective that social media can leverage. This could be providing independent product referrals while prospects are evaluating product information online, or offering a channel for answering product questions or concerns.

2. Based on your objective, develop a business case model to evaluate success. Structure the pilot with a clear baseline and control group against which to measure success, such as reducing the service calls to the contact center.

3. Be targeted and specific with your social media deployment. Identify social media outlets, internal participants, desired interactions, training, monitoring, and management.

4. Embrace social media internally to educate your teams. Select team members to drive the project and increase visibility. Establish collaboration through wikis and other sharing mechanisms. Embrace the spirit of social media—encourage new ideas from team members.

5. Manage change. Let resistant employees know social media has the power to make their jobs more interesting and varied.

While you can do a lot yourself, consider engaging a third-party partner to help create, execute, and expedite your strategy. A partner will provide expertise in processes, manpower planning, and analyzing the CRM-generated data that will enable you to assess an ROI for your efforts and continuously improve customer experience.

With consumers in control of communication, it’s up to businesses to harness social media and initiate new sales and service models. A thoughtfully developed and executed social media program integrated with your CRM strategy can help you reach new markets and customers while increasing loyalty and mitigating risk. It’s time more companies got on board.


    Atanas Popov is a consulting partner for Wipro‘s media and telecom practice.


    David Volpe is partner and CRM practice head at Wipro Consulting Services in Boston.

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