During the past 10 years, the rise of social media has disrupted everything from media to politics to the way businesses interact with customers. While companies once were able to engage in one-on-one conversations with disgruntled customers, unsatisfied consumers can now blast out complaints for all to see.
The rise of social networks initiated another channel that brands needed to use to interact with existing and potential customers -- making the idea of social media CRM a reality. Between Facebook and Twitter -- and, to a lesser extent, Instagram and Pinterest -- the power dynamic between customer and company switched to customers who have the capability of making a brand go viral for all the wrong reasons. Not only do companies need to develop a strategy for customer engagement on social media, but they also need to do a better job of connecting those social personas with existing or potential customers.
"Can an enterprise respond to everyone? Of course -- it's a matter of if they invest enough," said Dan Gingiss, vice president of Persado and author of Winning at Social Customer Care: How Top Brands Create Engaging Experiences on Social Media. "There are a lot of examples that start with someone who's angry with a company, and by engaging and helping them, they turn a detractor into a customer."
Easier said than done
Gingiss believes that companies, regardless of their size, should respond to every social media inquiry, but it's easier said than done. For the first couple of years, when consumers took to social media for questions, compliments or concerns, brands would shy away from dealing with criticisms, primarily working to answer neutral inquiries. But consumer expectations have shifted; companies are expected to be responsive to customer engagement on social media.
According to a 2018 survey by social media messaging company Conversocial, 81% of approximately 2,000 consumers surveyed said their digital service expectations are higher compared to last year, with 37% acknowledging they've used digital channels for customer service. As for customer retention, 57% of those surveyed claimed they stopped doing business with a brand due to poor digital customer service.
Dan Gingissvice president, Persado
With the importance of social media CRM firmly established among consumers, companies need to be where their customers want them to be, regardless of the tone of the inquiry. When scrolling through different companies' Twitter timelines, it's easy to see which brands take time to interact with customers, the type of comment notwithstanding.
"Answering and supporting customers is a top priority," said Clementine Berlioz-Arthaud, senior marketing manager for brand and social media at HelloFresh, a meal-kit company that delivers food and recipes to customers' homes. "Answering disappointed customers is important to make sure they're ultimately satisfied while we also take time awarding customers who are loyal and happy with responses."
Berlioz-Arthaud started with HelloFresh less than three years ago when she was a department of one. The social media team is now five strong as they scour for signs of customer engagement on social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. To make sure these valuable interactions with customers don't live in a silo, the social media team at HelloFresh works closely with the CRM team to synchronize a content strategy -- although the flow of information has its issues.
"It's complicated, I'm not going to lie," Berlioz-Arthaud acknowledged. "But there are some bridges that we've built and are able to target our social media followers."
While social media CRM connectivity seems like it should be a simple connection, there are unique challenges with some social networks that make engagement difficult. "I think there are a few companies that have figured that out -- integrating social profiles into customers," Gingiss said. "But part of the challenge for that -- Facebook isn't that difficult, but on Twitter, you don't have to use your real name. You could have a customer complain on Twitter and have no idea who that is some of the time."
Messaging the next big thing
Customer engagement on social media is just one aspect of a successful CRM plan. While customers have shown no problem airing their dirty consumer laundry on social media, the rise of private messaging and chat through social media has seen a substantial increase, according to industry experts.
"Messaging is already becoming the next big thing and will allow for that connectivity to CRM," Gingiss surmised. "You have that ability when you're messaging with a customer to confirm and authorize accounts. And once you do that, you can establish that connection."
More than half of those polled in the Conversocial survey said they were very likely to be a repeat customer to a brand if that company responded to customer service inquiries over social media; an additional 41% said they were somewhat likely to be a repeat customer. "Over the last couple of years, there has been a big shift, where the majority of message volume is private," Conversocial CEO Joshua March reported.
This switch to private messaging via Facebook Messenger or through Twitter direct messages should be a welcome advancement in social media CRM for companies. No business wants their complaints aired publicly, so by replying to private messages, a company can nip a potential problem in the bud. Unless it doesn't.
"When a customer has a problem, they just want their issue solved," March said. "They naturally don't want to air their dirty laundry -- but they will if they're unhappy with the level of service they're receiving."
Chatting it up
But answering every private message can be more daunting than replying to every tweet or Facebook post. Consumers tend to expect a quicker response if they communicate directly with the company. To help move some of those inquiries along, chatbot technology has ballooned over the past couple of years.
In 2016, Facebook introduced messenger bots for businesses. According to public reports from this year's F8 conference, there are more than 300,000 monthly active chatbots on Facebook Messenger, and more than 8 billion messages have been sent back and forth between customers and businesses. "The Facebook bot announcement had a lot of hype, and what they built was a platform that makes it easy to add simple automation," March said. "The majority of bots were simple, rules-based bots."
Joshua MarchCEO, Conversocial
Most consumers have experience interacting with a chatbot and understand when a conversation gets too complex and moves to a human, but that handoff from automation to real-life conversation is important and sometimes difficult. "Some bot technology can help," Gingiss explained. "Automation works well for questions you can just Google, but how does the bot figure out when it can't answer a question? And how does that handoff to a human happen instantly and seamlessly?"
Conversocial helps its customers build chatbots for basic questions, March said, but once it has that data, it bumps the inquirer to a human agent. "Over time, every company will be able to automate more of what they're doing," March surmised. "But we're a ways away from automating everything."
Whether customers prefer putting a company on blast through a tweet or Facebook post or decide to have a private conversation through a social network, customer engagement on social media can be crucial to a company's success. "People who take time to complain to a company do so because they care," Gingiss said. "They genuinely want the company to fix the problem so they can stay as a customer."