"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." - Charles Darwin
One of the keys to business growth has long been the strength and nature of the relationships an organization builds with its customers. All businesses with customers have customer relationships. They exist whether you like it or not, and whether you are focused on it or not.
This reality can be double-edged swords for companies. According to Forrester's Customer Experience Index in 2012, only 37% of companies were rated "good" or "excellent" by their customers. This gives companies in the 37% a measurable advantage over others in their industry when it comes to customer satisfaction, market advocacy, and a joint commitment to seeing the business succeed. It leaves the remaining companies that received an "OK," "poor," or "very poor" rating open to losing market share to competitors that maintain better relationships with customers.
In addition to directly impacting customer retention, a solid customer relationship management (CRM) strategy can help your employees learn about market needs and customer behavior in order to deliver more helpful information and develop products that better serve your target audience.
Change is Coming Change is Here (and It is Not Stopping Any Time Soon)
Strategies for maintaining customer relationships have evolved over time. For most industries, the characteristics of today's customers are not the same as they were twenty, ten, or even five years ago. Now, the Internet plays a major role in how customers and businesses interact. It has changed both how you can maintain relationships with your customers, as well as your customers' expectations of how, when, and where you fit into their lives. For this reason, it is important for you to understand the modern rules for customer relationship management.
As Socious has worked with companies to implement online customer communities and social CRM strategies over the past few years, we have compiled nine realities of the customers you work with that impact business performance. Business people that internalize these rules are more likely to succeed as customer relationships in almost all industries experience a dramatic shift.
Do These Rules Influence Your Customer Relationship Management Decisions?
Rule #1) Customers Are Busy.
The amount of time a customer can spare for your business is limited and shrinking. This means you better bring tangible value and align your messages with your customers' most important problems.
No matter how important your business is to you, communicate with customers as if your company, brand, and messages are not at the forefront of their minds at all times. Use tools and strategies to ensure that the information that your customers receive from your organization is highly relevant and makes good use of their time.
Rule #2) Customers Come With Content.
We have reached the point where each individual at a customer's organization is a brand unto themselves. They have Twitter streams, YouTube channels, RSS blog feeds, and cloud-based photo albums. A large part of their professional lives and participation in online communities is designed to build and maintain their personal brand.
It is up to you to make sure your social CRM plan provides tools to empower customers to publish and pull in content, as well as share it with the all or certain segments of the customer community.
Rule #3) Customers Talk. Be Ready to Listen.
Customers have always talked. They advocate for your company when they are happy and they complain to anyone who will listen when they are unhappy with your organization.
In the past, customers asked questions and shared opinions at industry events, during support calls, and in user group meetings. Today, social media has created an environment where people can talk constantly. On social networks, your customers not only want to connect with friends and family, but with their favorite brands and businesses as well.
All of the social data generated by your customers in public and private social networks gives your company signals about the health of your relationship with that customer. Some of the signals are overt (e.g. a public complaint) and some are subtle (e.g. joining a specific online group in your private community).
As in any relationship, customer relationships are strongest when the customer knows that they are heard. If you can't or don't read your customers' signals, the silence is easy to ignore inside the walls of your company, but it can leave a lasting negative impression on customers when they think of your company going forward.
Consumers have plenty of options for talking about your company and with your company. Listening has never been so important in strengthening customer relationships.
Rule #4) Customers Don't Always Believe You.
A long time ago, customers would turn to businesses as the sole source of information about their products, industry, or problems. Now, those days are gone and more customers take advantage of the information available to them from a multitude of online content and social channels.
If customers aren't confident in something that you say or do, they can go elsewhere to find out the truth. That includes media sources, other customers, your partners, and even competitors.
Rule #5) Customers Use Multiple Channels to Communicate and Seek Answers.
Our customers that use the listserv features built into their online customer communities see an average of 10% more customer engagement than those organizations that only use the browser-based community. Companies see this increase in participation result from people being able to engage with employees of the company, fellow customers, and partners from their email inbox as well as through the online community.
Customers use several technology and communication platforms to do their jobs. They may disengage from your organization if the channels in which they can reach out to you and others in your customer community don't align with their communication preferences.
The speed at which your customers do business, heightened customer experience expectations due to the consumerization of enterprise IT, and trends in mobile access make it important to have several layers of support channels, including phone, social media and online customer communities.
Rule #6) Customers Receive a Lot of Content.
Every day, your customers have a lot of information coming in. According to the Email Statistics Report (2011-2015) by Radicati, the number of messages that the average business email account receives in a day will rise from 72 to 84 between 2011 and 2015.
In addition, customers that use search or social media to find information can get lost in the ever-expanding options online. Netcraft, an English company devoted to tracking technology on the Internet reported that there were 634 million websites in existence at the end of 2012 with 51 million of them added during that year.
The bottom line is that customers are constantly on the edge of being overwhelmed by the volume of the information they receive. In an effort to cope with this reality, many people have trained themselves to ignore seemingly unimportant messages. Your customers are not on a constant lookout for anything you might send to them, so it is important that you are sending them only highly useful content that is relevant to that individual.
Rule #7) Customers Seek Communities, Not Social Networks.
There are many differences between online communities and social networks. Communities share a purpose and common understanding of why they are there, whereas social networks are the platform that enables people to connect. Communities come together to support one another and solve problems. Social networks are just that, networks of people and companies. Both are valuable. They just serve different purposes.
When it comes to customer relationship management, strive to create an active community, not just a social network. Your customers want to succeed with your products or services. They want to know that there is a community rooting for them.
Compared to the basic experience of being connected on a social network, the support, collaboration, and engagement between customers, employees, and partners that can be found in an active customer community can naturally lead to stronger relationships with your customers.
Rule #8) Customer Actions Speak Louder Than Words.
What a customer does is a much better indicator of the health of their relationship with your organization than what they say. By combining traditional demographic and transactional data with behavioral and social data, your business can gain a better understanding of your customer priorities, their challenges, and areas where you can strengthen your relationship.
Rule #9) Customers Will Say Something.
Customers will have good and bad things to say about your brand. They are increasingly willing to voice their questions and concerns online about the industry and your products, as well as share tips. Your company has some control over where they say it and who can hear them.
Customers can voice concerns in public or they participate in your private social network for customers. They can ask questions in another one of your industry's branded communities or they can engage in your secure customer community. They can speak up in a place where competitors can swoop in and provide solutions or they can be a leader in the private online community that your organization sponsors.
You customers will say something. It is up to you to provide the place for them to have those conversations. Otherwise, you will be forced to sit on the sidelines and watch while others in your market offer them a platform to find answers, vocalize discontent, and build community.
Social Customer Relationship Takeaway
Customer relationships and the way that customers communicate with your organization and others in the industry are evolving quickly. This change has taken some businesses by surprise and it is right in the wheelhouse for others.
Modern customer relationship management needs new strategies, processes, and technology tools. Businesses are increasingly managing this still-evolving customer relationship landscape by choosing a strategy that includes an online customer community at the center.
Evaluate your current customer management plan against the realities of modern customers listed above. Once you identify your strengths and weaknesses, you can map out the social strategies, cultural shifts, and community technology features that will help you cover your bases for the ongoing changes in customer relationship management.