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The Altimeter Group’s R “Ray” Wang and Jeremiah Owyang recently hosted a Webinar called “Social CRM: The New Rules of Relationship Management.”  The discussion revolved around an emerging trend in Social CRM platforms, including the business implications of choosing to acknowledge and interact with your customers rather than allow conversations to carry out without your organization’s knowledge or participation.

At the heart of the Webinar lived the fact that customers are using social technologies to share their voices, and companies are having a very difficult time to keep up. As a result, organizations are turning to Social CRM technologies to engage their customer base in both praise and complaint.

Altimeter defines Social CRM as a means to “understand where, what and which conversations are happening, and how to engage in conversation.” Social networks have become the customer’s virtual soapbox to share all information and commentary about their favorite, or least favorite, companies – a scenario that must be acknowledged and dealt with appropriately by company representatives.

If you are pioneering your company’s Social CRM initiative, or have been tasked with finding a solution for customer engagement, the Social CRM Pioneer Group is a great resource for more information and feedback from experts.

Wang and Owyang point to the importance of “listening before talking,” noting that by doing so an organization can identify top influencers, rank top conversations, prioritize top channels and gauge the tone of conversation. InsideView CEO Umberto Milletti discussed the relevance of listening before talking in a Sandhill article earlier this year, stating “In a prospect-driven buying process, sales reps need to actively listen and develop a conversation with prospects.”

Social media has led to a demand for immediate response – with Social CRM, companies can be among the first to respond to a public complaint, rather than getting lost in the eventual mass of commentary. Look no further than last year’s United Breaks Guitar scenario. Within hours of posting a video complaint about the airline mishandling his musical equipment, millions of viewers had shared the homemade PR nightmare. With an active Social CRM platform, United could have potentially calmed the waters with a fraction of the public interest.

Several additional notes from the Webinar:

  • For companies, real time is not fast enough: Companies need to be able to anticipate what customers are going to say and do, in order to keep up. Example: Although Motrin responded to angry moms within 24 hours – it was too slow.
  • Companies are unable to scale to meet the needs of social: No matter how many community managers companies hire to support, they’ll never be able to match the number of active customers. They need tools, and they need them now.
  • Customers don’t care what department you’re in they just want their problem fixed: Support problems can quickly became a PR nightmare (United Airlines guitar incident) – had the support group known she was an influencer (and what it means), they could service the disgruntled customer better.