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Can CRM truly be social?

Social CRM (SCRM) is an extension of any CRM system that uses social elements such as social media networks and social strategies to help develop, monitor and maintain customer relationships. One of the fundamental aspects of a SCRM is the process of nurturing customer intimacy and increasing a customer's engagement with a business through these social elements. Creating a sense of intimacy with consumers has many of its own strategic challenges. But is brand intimacy really important to consumers and can a CRM truly be social?

Tactical Engagement Challenges

Using the internet and social media as a channel for customer engagement isn't always clear sailing and it can raise tactical challenges for CRM. Traditionally, CRM strategy is designed to manage customer relationships and assist in extracting the greatest value from customers over the lifetime of the relationship. But with SCRM a business can no longer control the relationship and instead customers drive the conversation.

Once social networks are utilised by businesses, its customers are able to easily exist in these influential virtual networks and social conversations can overshadow a company's marketing, sales and service efforts very quickly. This can be beneficial to a company's reputation, but it can also be quite damaging, especially to a small business if the conversation is negative. To help create positive interaction it is important to provide value and to be transparent in all social actions.

Challenge 1: Providing Value

SCRM strategy that recognises that instead of managing customers, the role of the business is to facilitate collaborative experiences and dialogue that customers value. This value can come in many forms, from coupons and discount vouchers to the sharing of specific or exclusive information, deals or services. The challenge for businesses here is in determining exactly what it is their customers want and what they will respond to.

Challenge 2: Creating Trust

As well as providing value, being transparent (and thus trustworthy) is a key element to social customer engagement. In a recent study conducted by IBM, they found that an element of trust was a key deciding factor in how customers interacted with businesses online. Of the 45% of respondents who interacted with brands, 66% said they needed to feel that a company was communicating honestly before they would interact with them. Although it is easier to start with your best foot forward (rather than trying to correct a negative image!), trust can be gained by responding to negative feedback instead of removing or deleting it, engaging in conversations, responding to customer questions, always delivering on promises and most importantly by being honest.

But, it is not always about intimacy…

Despite intimacy being one of the key goals of SCRM, IBM found that the desire for intimacy or connection with a brand was not what was always driving interaction. Rather, consumers were more willing to interact with businesses if they believed it was to their benefit, and that social media was able to provide the value added experience that they were seeking (this is where value and trust really come into play).

This might not seem like a challenge in and of itself, however, businesses often over-estimate a consumer's desire to engage with them and feel connected to the brand. This in turn can hinder SCRM strategies and implementation. Thus, it is important to focus SCRM strategy on providing value for customers and creating a reputation of trust – if these things are achieved, brand loyalty and customer interaction are more likely to follow.

So, can a CRM truly be social?

Yes and No. A social CRM doesn't exist on its own, rather it is part of the businesses "socialisation" process that utilises social networks and technologies. A CRM system can have social elements, monitor social networks and collect data about clients and prospects, but where a Social CRM is challenged, is intimacy.

Social networks are synonymous with intimacy: the majority of interactions occurring between friends and family. In contrast, when consumers interact with a brand or business, intimacy often takes a back seat to value added experience or is forgotten altogether in the case of B2B interactions.

In this sense, a CRM without the intimacy is not truly social – it can however provide the tools to help tech support, customer service, sales and marketing teams better understand their customers, add value and develop trust through online interaction. In other words it is the human element of CRM that is social and without this human element, without the intimacy, without the right strategy, a CRM can never truly be social.


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