Not long ago, the relationship between a customer and a corporation was relatively static and one-sided. Companies’ advertisements and press releases were completely controlled by their marketing and management teams. Today’s consumers, however, have usurped much of that power, catapulting the shift into “Social Consumers” evident today. These “social consumers” seek out information through sites like Twitter and Facebook, trust only relevant, value-added information and expect a conversation with brands – one that is truly personalized to this specific customer and their ask. This shift in consumer behavior has forced traditional Customer Relationship Marketing to evolve into today’s social CRM. Collecting and managing customers’ data has become insufficient. Now, companies are empowered to utilize this data to create strategies focused on customer engagement and advocacy.
CRM was once a company-centric process managed by specific departments, used defined channels and specific criterion during set business hours. Marketing messages that were sent out focused predominately on generating sales. Now, with customer-centricity an imperative for most companies, it’s the customer that dictates the channels, the requirements and “hours” of operation for brands. CRM has evolved into a customer-dictated process managed by everyone throughout the organization. While messages go in and out, the primary focus is on creating interactions and building a brand story and personality.
Social media has become the go-to technology platform for organizations to engage with their consumers. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ are enabled to transform businesses in order to cater to the wants and needs of consumers. But what does this mean for traditional CRM tactics? Is there still value to non-social, traditional customer-centered, CRM tactics?
One company that effectively uses traditional methods is Zappos.com, the online accessory and clothes retail giant. One of the most notable differences between the customer service of the online shoe and apparel shop and most other companies is their call center. Unlike most call centers that have been outsourced abroad, Zappos houses their entire customer service department of 500 people located in an office in Las Vegas. Customer service employees are trained for seven weeks with a heightened focus on customer satisfaction. They are never given a script. Instead, they are encouraged to offer exceptional services like buying shoes at a competing store just to make sure the customer receives an item that Zappos does not have in stock. These conversations are typically handled offline; however, through the excellent customer service that Zappos offers, these memorable and unique CRM tactics often make their way to social media in a positive manner.
Sprint Nextel is also sticking to traditional tactics to connect with their customers. Every Thursday they send out handwritten letters to their customers to thank them for doing business with Sprint. They feel that in today’s digital world, customers notice and appreciate that they are taking the time to offer a more personalized experience. Let’s face it – how often do you get a handwritten letter from a company with a real person’s touch attached to it?
The renowned Ritz-Carlton hotel chain also utilizes CRM in an innovative and personalized fashion. Similar to other hotel chains, the Ritz uses CRM software to collect data about their guests; theirs, however, is customized to always include past customers names as well as their specific preferences based on previous stays. Employees are encouraged to always provide impeccable services while striving to make the impossible, possible.
Finally United Airlines has a department that specifically looks out for the needs of their frequent fliers. They keep track of habits and strive to make trips as easy as possible. They call their frequent fliers to inform them about delays and, if possible, book them on an earlier flight out.
Despite talk about the declining value of managing CRM through traditional media, traditional channels don’t necessarily need to be replaced by social channels. Instead, they should be viewed as a new set of communication options – an enhancement that is more precise and personalized. The question shouldn’t be on which channel you’re managing CRM, but rather how you’re approaching the customer experience holistically in order to build long-standing brand affinity.
This article was posted on the Customer Relationship Marketing column of MediaPost and authored by Strategist, Alex Realmuto