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Putting social networking at the heart of customer service

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9th Jul 2009
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Web 2.0 is helping businesses tap into millions of consumers who want to enagage and be contacted in new and evolving ways. But Salesforce.com's Andy Jacques explains why its important they listen to and understand the social networking community to be able to speak the right language.

The business world has changed and so has the way companies engage with their customers, says Andy Jacques, senior vice president North EMEA for Salesforce.com. The catchment area, once a factor in assessing the ‘pulling power’ of a business, has gone global thanks to the web. The only limitations on how many customers a company can engage with are their own ambitions and their ability to do so. 

Especially in times like these, businesses must do all they can to engage with as large a catchment area as possible and increase sales by scale as well as other essential business practices, such as excellent customer service and successful fulfillment. That means, however, scale cannot be sought at the cost of quality and personal service, which in turn requires a far greater understanding of what is being said in the wider market place. 

The wider neighbourhood conversation 

Businesses which have traditionally existed only within a small catchment area, such as independent shops relying on over-the-counter trade, often operated with a strong sense of community. Information gained first hand on their customers allowed them to effectively manage their supply chain but also enabled them to drive higher levels of customer service. They would find out this information through direct communication with customers but also by being part of the wider neighbourhood conversation. That is the basis of good customer service.

The problem has been making this scale to businesses managing thousands or even millions of customer relationships. Contact centres have tried to bring personalisation but often an underlying lack of information about their consumers has exposed such efforts as ineffective. So how do these companies hear and understand the wider conversation and gain the knowledge to make their business more efficient when the catchment area is global rather than local?

Fortunately, the internet tends to solve the problems it creates and Cloud applications, such as the Service Cloud from Salesforce.com, are enabling businesses to tap into the blogosphere as well as applications such as Twitter and Facebook to be part of the global conversation their customers are helping to drive.

This means the world of Web 2.0 can be seamlessly integrated with core customer service applications so frontline and back-office can see not only customer information but also the latest up-to-date conversations around their company, industry and market. Companies using the Service Cloud can tap directly into Twitter conversations, join in, monitor and share from their customer service interface. It’s taking social media and putting that conversation at the very heart of the enterprise.

After all, what business wouldn’t want to tap into a focus group of millions of people to help inform their decisions and improve their service? And this is not just about joining or understanding the conversation: this is about recognising that new generations of consumers want to engage and be contacted in new and evolving ways. 

The new power of social networking

I read a really interesting blog post from the Yankee Group recently which claimed: “Yankee Group forecasts the number of consumer accounts across the major social networks to grow to 229 million by 2012. 

“Social networks have developed the power to not only influence customer buying patterns but also how companies serve their customers,” the post continued. “Companies can immediately improve marketing by capturing nuances of social networks to adjust product and brand campaigns. Instead of expensive and lengthy focus groups, instant access from the network can be used to create unique valuable conversations across different social groups. Information could then be acted on and capitalised for service and marketing.”

That comment from the Yankee Group shows why it is so crucial to embrace, understand and know how to use the information generated across these social networks. If 229 million people were talking about your business, wouldn’t you want to know about it and be able to shape, inform and join in that conversation?

Similarly can any business, especially now, afford to let 229 million potential customers pass them by? Of course not. And those numbers are growing sharply. Put simply, businesses must regard social networks as they do physical footfall in their shops, inbound phone calls, or leads generated via online or email marketing. 

Gartner predicts an increase over the next three years in the number of service conversations taking place in the cloud - from 50% this year to 66% by 2013. Twitter alone grew 1600% over 2008 and continues to grow at an incredible rate.

The future post-Twitter

The conversation is getting louder and much harder to ignore. Though a final note of caution: businesses must be aware that the world of social networks will not remain static. It’s not about understanding Twitter; it’s about understanding that something may potentially come along to replace Twitter, or at least create a large community elsewhere which must also be engaged.

And the wisdom of multiple crowds in The Cloud must be integrated with a company’s core customer service application, pulling in knowledge from Twitter and Facebook and, therefore, speaking the same language as their consumers. And doing that integration in The Cloud, where those conversations are happening, make the greatest sense. It means usage can be scaled up or down, which must be a prerequisite for anybody running customer service operations at the current time. 

Businesses need to be flexible; they need to grow as demand picks up and they need to be agile to meet new opportunities quickly. But perhaps more importantly, they have to listen and understand.

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By Eastway
16th Jul 2009 04:56

An interesting article and I agree with your comments about the importance using all communication channels, including social networking, in order to interact with customers and delivery a holistic service offering.

There's an excellent video on youtube of how Orange are going about it
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97ObiF24EPM&feature=PlayList&p=208DAC527F...

Regards
Gary Smith
www.2020management.com

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