Type ‘social CRM’ into Google and you get around eight million results, most of them using a different definition of the term. 

But what can social CRM really achieve? And how can this potential be quantified?

In an ideal world, social CRM would give us the ability to integrate a brand’s existing customer data with their social media interactions.

In theory, social CRM should provide detailed information from a number of different sources and make the info available to whoever needs it.

A Community Manager would know what a customer has bought, when, and any issues they might have had in the past and whether those issues affected their buying behaviour. This provides added sensitivity that helps them respond in the most appropriate way.

Arguably this information is more revealing and valuable than a log of telephone calls they made last June or a missed bill payment in 2002.

It can potentially provide greater insight into their behaviour, likes, proclivities and, most interestingly, their influence among their peers. 

It might be that a customer who’s had a repeatedly bad experience needs to be escalated to a dedicated customer team. Or a customer who’s become an advocate for the brand is given VIP treatment as a reward for loyalty.

Add geo-location to the mix, and you have a technology-based system for spotting customer issues and resolving them with minimum fuss. Complaints can be prioritised, managed and resolved, instantly. Positive testimonials can be spotted, acknowledged and advocates can be empowered to help shape the future.
 
The technology is already there to achieve this. I had an interesting conversation with Stuart Gardner of Comufy, a company that offers (among other things), social CRM tools that gather social data on individuals from channels such as Facebook and Twitter.

Customer data can be segmented by the obvious things like age, gender, and location, but add social channels into the mix and you can add in things that let you segment and target customers more effectively, like interests and social influence.

Where it gets really interesting is in the ability to hook into legacy systems (like Salesforce) to give a brand a much more rounded view of the customer, by adding a social layer to existing information.

That lets you do interesting things like target people who’ve had a negative experience with tailored messaging, down to an individual basis. 

Early adopter brands are already starting down this road. But full adoption, when all major brands fully embrace social CRM to give them a complete view of every individual customer, could be further away than you think.

Integrating social CRM with legacy systems can create a mental block. Is it worth the hassle and expense?  How can you quantify the benefits? What is the business case?

It’s possible now. The technology exists. But to do social CRM well requires a clear customer strategy based on more than just sector, demographic and region. It means seeing every customer as an individual, not part of a segment.

It takes more planning. And the social content plan has to be more detailed to provide a more refined and segmented approach.

When brands see their competitors benefitting, and more case studies emerge, and more robust metrics are developed to gauge social influence, the case will become ever more compelling. Companies who are embracing social CRM are performing well.

It is no coincidence. ‘Knowing your customer’ has never been so accessible. With knowledge comes power but brands will need to be careful not to become intrusive in their messaging (see Target example).  

But once it happens, and it will, social will revolutionise the way brands deal with customers and ‘social CRM’ will simply become ‘CRM’.