By Andrew Kokes, global VP, marketing & product management, Sitel
One of the most significant trends in customer engagement over the past several years is the rise of social media outside marketing and inside customer service. Social media is moving beyond contacts and interactions to a culture of community and collaboration for the most engaged and customer-centric companies.
Consumers are no longer relying solely on the traditional channels of phone and email when interacting with companies. More than 23% of consumers from the age of 18-32 prefer social media when learning about the different sales, return policies or customer reviews that retail brands have to offer. Through social media interactions, consumers have greater access to the latest trends from their favorite brands while seeing first hand their peer’s reactions through tweets, photos and hashtags. Approximately 83% of consumers tell their friends if they get a good deal, demonstrating that the demand for advice from fellow customers is present and strong enough for consumers to act to enable this type of advice. In the apparel sector, for instance, more than 12% of consumers turn to blogs and almost 7% use other forms of social media as a resource for fashion advice.
Social is more than an interaction, or transaction, it is a culture. Social media communications is a philosophical belief that more people working together is better than one person working alone.
It’s an approach to doing business in a more interconnected way. Social media has become the answer for crossing functional and departmental barriers and for collaborating as one business. Social media is the answer to getting that one shopper who only visits a retail outlet once a year connected to the one person in the company who has the experience and insight to provide the right insight at the right time. Companies have the ability, through the use of social media, to turn a brand skeptic to a loyal brand advocate through their social interactions.
The following five steps can help improve your customer engagement strategy for Social interactions:
1. Keep an Ear to the Cloud: Companies that fail to monitor the conversations unfolding on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Google+, Instagram and other social networks are missing critical opportunities to address concerns and turn criticism into advocacy. By developing a better understanding of the concerns of your consumers through monitoring social media, you are ultimately allowing your brand to continuously self-improve. You are putting your brand at an advantage by actively addressing the problems or concerns that your customers are having.
Additionally, you are instilling a sense of trust for your customers by letting them know that your brand will not only recognize those problems but fix them both effectively and efficiently. Social media also provides a channel for positive interactions to occur, such as supportive assistance, positive feedback and brand loyal advocacy. Similarly, companies can put the technologies and teams in place to listen to their customers and identify opportunities to create buzz, build loyalty, and resolve retail issues proactively.
2. Develop a Strategy and Implement it Quickly: Social media strategies require sufficient planning, but time-to-market is equally important. Accept that there will be several unknowns, as the social media landscape is ever changing. If you try to mitigate every conceivable risk factor, you will likely miss out on several customer opportunities. Avoid viewing social media as a potential setback to your organization, but as a new opportunity to service existing customers and win new ones. By proactively reaching out to customers and reacting more efficiently to their concerns, questions or feedback, you can improve your brand’s image and develop more brand advocates who may also influence brand sceptics through promotion of their positive experiences.
3. Achieve and Maintain Executive Buy-In: Reach out to C-level executives early in the planning process. Ask for their involvement and support; communicate the need for a cross-functional team of social media “champions” from relevant departments – sales, marketing, customer service, corporate communications, IT – that will closely collaborate on social media initiatives. By using all of your corporate resources to develop a more effective social media strategy, you will put your company in a position to improve customer satisfaction and advance your brand’s image.
4. Collaborate with Other Departments: Corporations should ensure that their social media strategy is cohesive across departments to ensure continuity. Organizations need to find out about other departments current and planned social media customer initiatives to better understand how it can impact the overall company. Feedback is a two-way street. Share your implementation plan roadmaps to understand key dependencies. When possible, embark on a joint, collaborative effort to project planning, implementation, support and continuous improvement methodology.
5. Manage the Entire Social Lifecycle: Once your social media strategy is implemented and underway, expand your capabilities to cover all aspects of the engagement lifecycle, including:
o Building online retail customer communities/forums
o Handling inbound social media contacts
o Handling outbound/proactive social media customer contact
o Campaign management, knowledge management, reporting and analytics
o Continuous improvement methodology
If your social media engagement increases beyond your internal capabilities, consider seeking a partner with operational Social Media expertise to help with your social media efforts.
Social networks and community forums are visible channels for retail customers to share and discuss experiences they have had with a retail brand or shopping outlet. Companies that understand this and establish a social media strategy are better prepared to quickly answer customer questions, give helpful feedback or address any unresolved issues. This also helps organizations to be more likely to retain those customers in the future. A proactive and speedy response helps improve retail customer experience, increase brand loyalty and potentially diffuse the negative impact of any bad customer experiences. By actively taking part in a customer engagement strategy through the use of social media, retail brands are positioning themselves to be more proactive with their consumers concerns and ultimately creating a more brand loyal following.
Andrew Kokes is global VP, marketing & product management, Sitel, responsible for Sitel’s business intelligence, strategic planning, and global product management. He is the key developer of Sitel’s Social CRM offer to drive online conversion and web retention.