by Joe Taylor Jr.
While business leaders grapple with Twitter and Facebook interactions, experts advise companies to master the art of the direct message in under 140 characters.
CIOs and other company leaders with questions about their investment in social CRM applications can review previous innovations to understand the importance of communicating with customers using their favored systems. Even though some companies wrestle with integrating "tweets" and "status updates" into their workflows, today's customer relationship management tactics can help prepare the business community for a future where fewer service conversations take place in person, or in public.
When the World Wide Web first emerged in the early 1990's, many companies viewed it as an extension of their media and marketing offices, not as a viable option for their customer relationship management campaigns. As AOL popularized e-mail among Americans, early adopters of customer-facing e-mail systems earned raving fans for fast responses. While some companies used bulletin boards and discussion groups to facilitate conversations with customers in public, a new generation of social networks challenged the way in which business leaders manage their messages.
MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter emerged as Americans' three most popular social networking platforms, with dozens of smaller rivals addressing specialty audiences. For a subset of users who enjoy "lifestreaming," every purchasing decision, service compliment, or customer complaint becomes part of a rolling public record. CRM software that can sift through public feeds to proactively solve problems for customers has become essential to companies that pride themselves on clean, transparent interaction.
Shifting CRM Software Back to Private Messaging
Still, most Americans prefer to do business out of the public eye. The most popular social networking platforms all feature private or direct messaging tools that, for some users, have replaced e-mail as their primary source for personal communication. Companies that integrate "DM" into their CRM software retain the ability to interact directly with customers in a less cluttered environment. Because social networking users retain more control over their inboxes than typical e-mail users, the content of messages generated by CRM applications becomes critical. Messages interpreted as spam can result in suspension or termination from a network, so marketers must listen more carefully to customers about how they prefer to interact.
Anticipating a Network-Free Future for CRM Software
Integrating social networking platforms into customer relationship management tools can help retain today's most desirable customers. However, a new wave of consumers threatens to make CRM even more challenging for companies by taking conversations away from centralized networks. The combination of mobile technology and children's privacy rules have cultivated an upcoming generation of prospective customers who prefer to communicate by text message, often carrying little to no formal presence on the web. Barred from "adult" social networks because of their age, high volume texters use sophisticated phones to manage their own groups. Archives of conversations exist almost entirely within mobile devices, creating new challenges for marketers who want to attract younger customers.
According to some experts, marketers can adapt existing CRM applications to include exposure to SMS networks. In some ways, the rapid-fire nature of text messaging is ripe for CRM software that can shoot back automated responses to account queries and basic information. Companies that hire text-savvy service agents that can take customer conversations to the next level through authentic conversations, regardless of platform, can expect to lead their fields in the decades to come.
Joe Taylor Jr. is an internal business consultant for a Fortune 500 company, who writes about finance, culture, and design. He holds a bachelor's of science in communications from Ithaca College.