Dr Rodrigo Perez-Vega (@rpvega) is an Assistant Professor in Marketing at Heriot-Watt University. He is the Programme Director for the MSc in International Marketing Management with Digital Marketing at this institution. His research focuses on how to make branded social media presence more engaging for customers.

Dr Paul J Hopkinson (@hopkinson67) is also an Assistant Professor in Marketing at Heriot-Watt University and Programme Director for the institution’s MSc in International Business Management. His research interests are focused in the areas of Relationship Marketing, Customer Relationship Management and Channel Management.

The landscape of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) has shifted markedly in recent years, fuelled, by amongst other things, developments in technology and the rapid expansion of social media platforms.  Social media use among Internet users and businesses is now widespread. From an SME perspective, companies have looked at social media channels as a cost-effective marketing tool, and consequently many organisations, big and small, have jumped onto the social media bandwagon over the last decade. True, early social media platforms allowed businesses to market directly to their potential and current customers at almost zero financial cost, however with a push towards monetisation and changes in the algorithms in many of the mainstream platforms is making this channel a more pay-to-play one. We propose that looking at social media not only as a marketing tool but also as a space where companies and customers can build meaningful relationship is the way forward.

Social CRM as defined by Paul Greenberg, involves engaging the customer:

” in a collaborative conversation in order to provide mutually beneficial value in a trusted and transparent business environment. It’s the company’s response to customer’s ownership of the conversation”

Paul Greenberg (2010, p.34)[1]

Social media platforms provide companies with opportunities to engage with existing and prospective customers at every stage of the customer journey.  As well as delivering content to help customers make purchase decisions, social media offers a powerful mechanism to deliver customised, post sales advice and support in real-time[3].  If handled well, this strengthens customer relationships leading to loyalty and advocacy. A 2015 report from Social Bakers found that 80% of the customer service requests are happening on Twitter, the immediacy that this platform provides is leading big organisations to develop Twitter accounts specifically for this purpose (e.g. @HiltonSuggests, @RBS_help, @SpotifyCares, etc.). The potential for customers to gain valuable advice not just from company representatives, but also other experienced users has been recognised by several companies, including Samsung and Apple. This offers a useful mechanism for enhancing credibility and trust, vital ingredients in any relationship.

In the UAE, a pioneer in this type of customer service is @EmiratesNBD, which allows its users to access banking services through this platform once their customers have passed a couple of security measures.  For this bank, financial, technological, and human resources may not be a problem, but SMEs could also implement these type of services on social media. This may be of particular interest for those that do not have the financial resources to develop their own mobile applications to give information about products, handle orders or complaints. Providing customer service through social media can potentially be a source of competitive advantage vs. other businesses that do not offer the service. This is particularly relevant for those businesses targeting millennials, as they prefer texting than calling businesses when looking for customer support or product information.

By monitoring social media activities (aka social listening) companies can also gain an insight into the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns (gauge sentiment), spot unaddressed market needs and even identify potential issues and problems before they impact their products and brands [2]. Social media is not, however, a universal panacea and needs to be employed as part of an integrated marketing strategy which takes account of the various channels that customers use to interact with an organisation along the path to purchase and beyond. We have provided a few recommendations to help you rethink your social media activities in a more customer-centric manner:

  1. The starting point for managing relationships successfully is to develop an understanding your customer’s journey. Pinpoint the various touch points between your organisation and the customer along the path purchase and after purchase. This will help you to understand your customer’s channel preferences and identify the appropriate mix of social media and other platforms that you will need to engage them.
  2. Integration is key: Ideally, communication between each channel and the customer at the various stages in the customer journey should be captured and shared to personalise future interactions. Delivering consistent messages across platforms is key to building relationships successfully3.
  3. Automation is not always necessary. Managing relationships with customers at a low scale can be manageable without the use of any particular software. Some social media channels (e.g. Facebook) already provide some basic tools that you can use to track past interactions with customers and add notes so that anyone else managing a fan page can also access it and have a greater idea of what has happened in the past. However, as your company grows it may be sensible to explore the use of specialised social CRM software that can ease the task of managing thousands of daily interactions.
  4. Develop a contingency plan. Whether you are or not on social media, some customers will get unsatisfied with your service. Pleasing everyone is impossible. Now this should not become a turn off from reaping the benefits of social CRM. Instead, consider designing a contingency plan that outlines how to react in all the possible situations and share it with anyone that will be interacting with your social media channels


Picture by Uncalno Tekno under CC license.

[1]Greenberg, P (2010) CRM at the Speed of Light, Fourth Edition: Socual CRM Strategies, Tools and Techniques for Engaging Your Customers.

[2] Deloitte (2015) Digital CRM: From traditional to individual;, context-aware, real-time customer interaction.

[3] Accenture (2010) Social CRM: The Frontier of Marketing, Sales and Service

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