Real-time customer service and in turn, marketing, are hard to achieve. The first step is acknowledgement of what Generation Y is actually doing to your market.

I attended Social CRM 2013 last week, hosted by Our Social TimesFrom some of the talks I got this feeling: we’re still on a long hike towards transparency in business, but there’s no doubt lots of companies are striding out.

In this post I wanted to collate some of my highlights of the conference. Social media isn’t the only thing changing business, but it’s a useful crucible in which we can see the spark of emerging values.

Creating value for customers, supporting them fully, and being an interesting brand are challenges which, of course, persist.

Before I kick off I’d like to cut and paste Andrew Campbell’s excellent philosophy of social CRM, from Econsultancy’s Customer Relationship Management in the Social Age guide.

Social CRM philosophy is as different to traditional CRM thinking as CRM was to the product-centric model of the 1960s. The emphasis in social CRM is on engagement and empowerment where the brand moves from being a producer of a product/service to being an aggregator of products/services, tools and experiences that enable the customer.

Companies need to move from managing customers, to facilitating collaborative experiences and on-going dialogue that customers value. By doing this companies will create the ability to monitor what consumers do and say to one another on social platforms accessing unbiased feedback and behavioural data on a huge scale. This insight should revolutionise the way marketers think and what they do. 

Marketers must apply a very different orientation to the design of customer experiences and businesses need to transform their organisational structures, processes, and cultures to reap the benefits of the social potential. The nature of the customer conversation has changed and brands must adjust the tone and articulation of their message to resonate in the social environment.

Transparency and Gen Y

Jacqui Taylor from Fying Binary spoke about social data leading to social business.

Gen Y is more open and collaborative than its parents.

Transparency is important. Gen Z will demand social business.

The Wiki leaks and NSA revelations are of such fascination because the public’s acceptance of reduced privacy is paired with an expectation of transparency. In Jacqui’s words ‘if you’re doing something in my name, I want to know about it’. 

Edelman’s trust barometer shows that trust in government is decreasing, as is trust in business. It’s only media that is being increasingly trusted by the public.

Transparency is needed to foster trust. Jacqui warned of the web’s ‘fabric of permanence’. If you shortcut, buying Likes and such, you will be found out, and this will be visible for a long long time.

As for social data, Jacqui poured scorn on the term ‘big data’, saying she hopes every time she shows a slide with the phrase, struck through, in giant letters, she is incrementally killing it. (She received much sympathy from the audience).

Data has always been about the three Vs – volume, velocity, variety. Volume is probably the least important of the three.

One of the internal barriers to working with social data is the IT department, the gatekeepers, the stiflers of innovation. Visualisation of data is one of the keys to getting people working with it more effectively.

Fying Binary has recently been working with data visualisation (loved by Gen Y) on a project for a bank’s HR team, to help with the recruitment process, and drive down recruitment time to six to eight weeks. The interface visualised top universities on a world map, and presented information pertaining to their graduates, courses, dates, contacts etc.

We’re going to see increasing use of social data visualisation within big organisations. This will enable them to better understand their customers, so in turn they can open up the business to the customer. 

Customer service: an industry that developed by mistake

That choice nugget was from Martin Hill-Wilson of Brainfood Consulting, who described customer service as something that has needed tackling for a long time, with an attitude of cost containment at most big companies for the past 30 years.

The emergence of social media ’has suddenly made customer service a spectator sport’ (Martin had a few zingers). He showed one example of Next Flowers, where one customer had complained on Facebook and a friend had chimed in with similar negative feedback, creating a snowball effect. 

In contrast, the rewards of social customer service are obvious, and include unsolicited and easy praise (jeepers)! 

Martin stressed that sentiment has to be analysed and understood, as it’s not always straightforward. He looked at the example of supermarkets and some research by Spectrum Insight

The research showed a worrying trend for increasing negative sentiment towards Morrisons, but analysis shows this varies geographically and on subject matter.

Although the problems were thought to be with online shopping and convenience, the quality of the own brand food turned out to be the main cause for complaint, which is obviously a problem for a grocery store.

Knowing this, Morrison’s can address this specific problem as a priority. Traditional market research shows more of an average view, and doesn’t give this level of insight.

Martin gave some examples of success, too, such as KLM’s work in helping customers in the wake of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano erupting. In comparison, Qantas’ response was poor.

KLM is one of the best brands, with airlines particularly good, for social response. 54 Minutes is the average response time on Twitter and Facebook, with a 96% response rate.

This leads on to some interesting stats shared by Martin, taken from Social Bakers. Financial services are currently the leading industry for response rate on Facebook, at 79.9%.

This seems quite good until you compare the 20.1% not responded to with the less than 4% of calls that are abandoned in the call centre.

Social CRM isn’t always about drastically changing your current CRM system, but perhaps about turning call centres into contact centres, and increasing awareness of the number of people using social media.

Martin shared some stats for different age demographics using social media. The research, from J. D. Power and Associates, surveyed 23,000 people in the US and showed the extent to which the young are using social customer service.

Jacqueline Anderson says:

It is critically important that consumers are able to find you in social, that’s the marketing, so they can talk to you when they need to, that’s the servicing. Then, of course, you want to keep those consumers engaged with your brand, so you circle back to the marketing again”

And some of the best marketing is signposting. Martin gave the example of Koodo’s Help page on Facebook. Clear and simple.

Martin also said that the most forward-thinking customer service departments are using YouTube to post support videos from an inhouse video team, which is becoming an ever cheaper capability.

Videos often cross language barriers, are favoured by consumers for comlex instructions, and will answer a lot of questions passively. 

Peer-to-peer support

Discussion of social customer service led on to everybody’s love for peer-to-peer support. When done well, these forums can engage your super fans, who will provide great product feedback, and provide answers for a good percentage of your stuck customers.

Sky is an obvious example that Martin pointed to. Sky has always had a great net promoter score of between nine and 10, those numbers are in no small part attributable to Sky’s customer support.

Martin also made the point that Sky knows very well the value of their product to their customers, and so their fees are commensurate. But rather than have customers begrudgingly pay, Sky throws in lots of benefits, such as uber-competitive phone call packages, without any question that the sports or films through your aerial are worth the fee. 

Nico Henderjckx of Sony Europe spoke about Sony’s super user community, and gave some enlightening detail of engagement with these users:

  • Biannual super user conference.
  • Monthly training.
  • Testing of new products.
  • Monthly catchup with European management.

Nico’s top tips for working with these valuable advocates, the models for every customer:

  1. Remember we are working with Humans.
  2. Explain your goals clearly to your Super Users.
  3. Put your Top management in front of them.


A good finishing point is Philip Sheldrake’s discussion of influence and influence flow. I’ll leave you with two of his slides that succinctly make the point that we communicate in order to influence. And if we don’t influence, somebody else surely will.