The other day my twelve-year-old daughter was “hanging out” at home with a few of her school mates and I found them sitting around messaging each other on FaceBook.  Somewhere in the middle of my old fogey’s rant about “grown-ups talk to each other” (which was receiving the “what planet are you from?” look anyway) I realised that this was increasingly not true.

My mind went back to an article I had read a while ago bemoaning the fact that, rather than have a conversation, even with a colleague along the corridor, we are very likely, these days, to send them an e-mail.  Surely therefore social media is just the latest addition to the range of communications options available to us and, as with everything else, because its new, the young are the early adopters?

Now I could get into the debate about whether this is a good thing or not, but I won’t. The point I am trying to make here is that social media has, at least for a rapidly-growing section of emerging consumers, become the preferred channel of communication.  I’m not talking about a certain kind of conversation such as when you are making arrangements for a meeting.  Kids today talk about anything and everything on handsets and all those kids are very soon going to grow into full-blown consumers with no powers of verbal conversation, but lightning-quick thumbs.  It’s like the conversations old women used to have over the garden fence, or play-gound banter, but now its all over a network.  So social media is becoming the place where reputations are won and lost, and recommendations and introductions made and that means the reputation of your business or your brand too. Like it or not, like King Canute you are not going to stop the tide of change, its a fact, its real, get used to it, live with it and make it work for you.

Anybody who has anything to do with social media management, or is responsible for customer support or customer relations will know that social media has fast become the preferred communications channel for raising customer service issues.  Socialbakers tell us that in 2013 59% of all in-bound customer requests were channelled through social media. In Q3 last year alone UK telcos handled over half a million customer service queries over Twitter and nearly as many via FaceBook, but the prize for the percent of total queries responded to on social goes to the airline sector with 76% through FaceBook and 56% through Twitter.

No organisation can afford to ignore this phenomenon, but apart from having to adapt to the humbling experience of airing your dirty washing in public this also means you have to adapt business structures and invent process to accommodate three kinds of conversations you must now engage in on social channels – 1) promotional messages that you are instigating, 2) customer queries and 3) public conversations on social media, blogs and reviews.  So, who in your organisation is responsible for these conversations? Sales people? Marketing communications people or some new group designed for the task and how do you manage the process?

Many businesses just aren’t structured in a way that facilitates a quick solution to the question of ownership of social channels or individual conversation types.  Although the marketing department I have just created for a leading retailer and others I have built before, included the CRM department and customer service team, in many businesses one or both CRM and customer service sit in the sales team while social media management is seen as a promotional tool and is therefore parked in the marketing department.  If we were giving a prize for the brands who have risen to this challenge it would probably go to the airline KLM who are generally accepted these days as the state-of-the-customer-service-art.  It seems that like other social-CRM-wise brands, KLM have avoided the internal struggles entirely by out-sourcing their social/CRM function. However, the contact centres such businesses employ still have to spot those public conversations, manage the three conversation types and publish responses of course.

There are a host of familiar social media and CRM management platforms out there to help, but most are, or have grown out of, single-function tools like Buddy Media, Radian6 and Social.com.  Contact centres have been getting by, by combining any number of these to create a total solution, until SalesForce came long and did it for them by acquiring these three to create a suite of tools that together provide something close to an end-to-end solution.  But that’s not the end of this evolutionary story by any means.  For one thing according to users/reviewers on softwareadvice.com at least, SalesForce Cloud is still ugly, painful and expensive and according to one industry commentator I spoke to this week “You’d have to be mad to try to run a contact centre on SalesForce these days”. Apparently solutions like this just don’t go far enough to accommodate the emerging multi-channel needs with the efficiency that a modern business demands, but help is on the horizon in the shape of a new breed of management platforms emerging in the shape of super-social-CRM solutions like Brand Embassy and their closest rival Conversocial that are truly seamless end-to-end solutions that aid efficiency, look great and have the capacity to deliver all you could possibly need.

Its all-change in the world of social media and if you aren’t in the game you’re not going to win.  How ready are you for the social/CRM revolution?

Phil Darby
January 26, 2014

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