There’s lots of buzz around social media, but until now few were doing much about it in the business world, besides hiring a blogger and then launching a blog without much of a plan or much in the way of goals.
However, there’s good news that looks toward the future where melding social media with traditional marketing and customer efforts can become a reality.
According to the March 23, 2009, CustomerThink Advisor eNewsletter, businesses are becoming more interested in adding social media to a menu of tools. Meanwhile, businesses, innovators, researchers and consultants are developing and testing ways to measure and eventually monetize social media.
One of the ways I see and hope this melding happens is within Inbound Marketing, which can be defined as any place within a business where customers talk to an employee about a product, service, want, need, concern or to offer a suggestion, and the ways we currently do Outbound Marketing. Furthermore, I believe the most likely places for these new ways of doing business to happen are the call center, the customer service department, sales (including stores) and marketing.
Within today’s business structure, those are the areas that experience most of the customer touches. By aligning those functional areas and sharing the incoming data delivered in the customer’s own voice, businesses can then understand how social media adds strategically and tactically to primary tools that heretofore were employed–the telephone, e-mail, advertising, web site forums and so on. And because the last thing a business needs is to add to its already complex and bloated bureaucracy, neither a new department or functional area headed by another executive is necessary, adding to efficiencies and cost effectiveness, as the CMO or the EVP of Sales and Marketing seems the obvious choice to lead this effort.
In Building the Social Customer Service Experience, Bob Thompson, CustomerThink Guru writes, “Over the next couple of years, more and more companies will take the plunge into delivering a more ’social’ customer service experience, to better engage with customers while also improving efficiency.”
That being said, Thompson warns that according to a Forrester study of 5,000 consumers, “45 percent of consumers still prefer to speak with a customer service agent on the phone” while 36 percent prefer going to a physical store.” That means that 81 percent of consumers would prefer traditional ways to interact, not via e-mail, web, chat or social media tools such as a blog. (To read an excerpt or to purchase the Forrester Study, click on the following title: The Gap In The Customer Service Experience,)
That tells me that the time to begin the departmental alignment process and to upgrade IT so that the software necessary to run an effective Inbound Marketing program is compatible with the infrastructure is today. Furthermore, the time is now to launch social media tools across the functional area channels mentioned above because it will take a year or two to get customers comfortable with e and social media technology, not to mention the work and time required to grow the audiences, to encourage their participation and to gather enough data to that we can improve the customer experience and we can turn the customer touchpoints into revenue centers, where both traditional metrics and the new metrics and tools being developed by technology start-ups serving social media efforts are in Beta.
The Bottom Line: Marketers, social media consultants, and technocrats need to add to their discussions about social media as a conversation tool and begin sharing the value around alignment of customer contact points to better serve customers with strategies and tactics that are both inbound (customer-activated contacts) and outbound (business-generated content). Within this context, social media has value for both businesses (creating better customer experiences and new revenue centers that are measurable) and the customers (adding another place where they can share their thoughts about a product, service, want, need, concern or to offer a suggestion and be offered a product or service that want or need).
By gathering and storing what customers say, businesses can group customers according to their wants and needs in ever smaller and smaller segments, and then respond by offering only those products and services that those groups want or need by using both Inbound and Outbound Marketing response mechanisms, employed by anyone, at any moment, when talking with any customer or group of customers. When each business implements its specific strategy and works out the details necessary for this alignment of functional areas and tactics (tools) to succeed, social media content will look very different from what we see today and both consumers and businesses will be better for it. When this happens, in whatever shape or form it eventually takes, Businesses Will Take Social Media to the Bank.