Social CRM & the Rise of Consumer Interaction

By Scott Taback, Highland Solutions

According to research firm Gartner, customer relationship management (CRM) revenue tops $20 billion and is on track to exceed that mark this year.

Along with substantial growth, however, the market is undergoing an evolution as power shifts from companies back to consumers.

In large part, it's thanks to the rise of social media. Customers now expect businesses to respond in the same way as friends or family using social sites - without delay and on-topic. Gone are the days where general answers to specific inquiries or lengthy delays are acceptable. Companies that want to engage consumers and get ahead of the game are turning to much-hyped "social CRM" alternatives. What does this technology really hold for the future of consumer interaction?  

State of Affairs

Social CRM is a nascent technology. Processes and technology exist to support social CRM but there's no standardization, no uniformity; just a general sense that integrating social into traditional CRM processes is better. As a result, many companies are putting money into social platforms hoping to catch consumer attention, but there's a problem: inconsistency. Users often find that while company blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and other social media streams are all active, they each have a different tone of voice and point of view. The result is often a confusing mess: which one really speaks for the business?

Adjusting the Balance

Bridging the gap between CRM and social CRM means changing who has control of process and dialogue. In traditional CRM deployments, interaction is controlled by the company. The goal is to deliver products and services that meet customer needs in the short term in order to make a sale. Information is "pushed" out to consumers to produce "simple transactional outcomes." These systems are simple, effective and easy to maintain, and produce significant results for companies willing to invest. The rise of always-on social media channels, however, and the ability of consumers to voice their praise or disappointment in a brand to other buyers worldwide (instantly), necessitates a shift in balance.

As a result, the future of social CRM means putting the customer in charge of the experience. Instead of focusing on sales alone, companies must seek out ways to build long-term relationships with consumers and be available for complaints or concerns all day, every day. What's more, advertising and marketing must take on a "pull" mentality - along with micro-targeted information, consumers must be able to access the information they want, when they want it, rather than when a company decides to share.

Ramping Up

There's a lot to be excited about when it comes to social CRM. Most importantly, it provides a way to uncover brand advocates and leverage their interest into positive social feedback. Every brand has them - fans and fanatics who love the way a company does business or the products it sells. True social CRM lets businesses find these advocates and collaborate with them to produce effective engagement strategies. A wealth of social data also becomes available when these conversations start happening. When combined with predictive analytics tools, this social data can help predict purchase decisions, minimize consumer complaints and deliver targeted content to users on-demand.

Taking advantage of the burgeoning social CRM market, however, requires a corporate shift, where each member of a company values and prioritizes social CRM. In addition, it's critical to define success before starting a social initiative, along with identifying metrics to measure this success. While the term "social" carries inherent ambiguity, achieving ROI with social CRM requires specificity.

The CRM market is shifting as social interactions trump business-driven messaging. Social CRM has a bright future for companies willing to invest in both the technology and the necessary corporate culture shift.

Scott Taback is VP of business development at Highland Solutions, the premier provider of social business software for businesses throughout a variety of industries such as healthcare, insurance, retail, etc.