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Experts discuss social media and CRM ahead of #SMWF Cape Town

Social media marketing has slotted nicely into many African businesses’ marketing mix. But in this two way conversation, both parties decide the direction and purpose of the channel, and it would appear that, far from happily wolfing down a stream of social media marketing messages, consumers actually want to talk back.

Unfortunately, some of them are angry, and what they want say to you shoots straight into the public domain, and might stay there forever.

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Fortunately, some companies are working on changing this. Social media can present more than a fresh new marketing opportunity. With the correct approach, channels like Facebook and Twitter can become a first-class, highly personalised customer service channels that tie elements of marketing and PR together.

The number of brands appearing on Twitter and Facebook show that a growing number of organisations are realising the potential customer service value of Twitter and Facebook.

Mobile operator Cell C’s social media activities have drawn media attention in the past, both for positive and negative reasons, but not because of the massive resource it ploughs into using the channels for nuts-and-bolts customer service provision.

Kelvin Jonck, online marketing manager at Cell C, says at the beginning the company’s social media channels were set up solely to distribute marketing messages. Today, up to 85% of the traffic that passes through these channels is around handling customer queries.

“We quickly realised that our customers wanted to use the medium to deal with queries and service issues, and who were we to argue.It was the customers that moulded them into what they are today.”

Cell C now has a team of 10 customer service operatives actively monitoring conversations about the brand and responding with assistance or simple thanks. But choosing your representatives is crucial, says Jonck. If you get the wrong person managing this conversation it can be disastrous.

“You’ve got to be able to deal with customer complaints in a proper, professional manner,” says Jonck. “Get someone who is first of all very well trusted within the company, and who has patients to handle these things. It’s not as easy as putting anyone in the front; select people that understand the space and the audience completely and know your business back to front.”

These people also need the ability to liaise with all parts of your business, according to Jonck. They’re your focal point of communication. They need to be able to speak to PR and able to speak to marketing. You only get a small window within which to spot problems and respond to them, so make sure your people can get answers quickly.
“And maybe look for a bit of charisma,” he adds. “You’ve got to have a bit of personality.”

Suzanne Stokes is brand manager of social media & social CRM at the internet service provider MWEB Connect. Stokes believes in the solid business benefits to using social media as a customer service channel.

“The social customer is a wealth of knowledge with regards to how a brand is perceived and how business services are received by the market,” Stokes says. “These ‘focus groups’ of the internet allow cost effective, qualitative research into consumer’s buying behaviour. All business’s have to do is listen, understand and implement these valuable insights internally, where viable.”

Of the two main channels, says Jonck, Facebook users seem angrier. But why? “Twitter is useful for handling specific queries,” he explains. “People on Twitter know what the want to say and they’ve got to say it in 140 characters.”

So do incensed consumers stumble onto a Facebook fan page in a state of agitation, post their rant and leave? “We are all guilty of it at one time or another,” says Stokes. “I am surprised at how poorly we treat one another when expecting assistance via social media. When pushed to the point of frustration, we desperately need to vent, and if we find a company Fan page we sometimes let loose, forgetting that there is a person behind that logo.”

Stokes cautions against breeding a “trolling” mentality, where the public nature of these rants means that the problem resolution is much swifter, whereas the same language and behaviour used over the phone would see the customer bid a curt, “Good day to you, sir!” followed by the sound of someone hanging up. “Moderation for hate speech needs to occur and trolling or tantrum behaviour should not be tolerated, not for the sake of any business,” she says.

Perhaps easier said than done though; especially in the African telecommunications, banking and insurance industries where, as Jonck observes, customers seem to have an innate negativity. “It comes with the territory,” he says. “But that influences how we approach our social media. We know where people are given a voice they’re going to use it, and we need to be cognisant of that before we do anything.”

But whatever you do, do something. Suzanne Stokes advises businesses to take notice of how other companies, and especially their competitors, are using social media in their customer communications.

“Playing ‘ostrich ostrich’ doesn’t change the fact that your potential customers, as well as your happy or disgruntled customers, are already out their talking about you whether you like it or not,” she says. “The sooner you get involved and influence the potential buyer’s perception of your brand, the better your business will be for it.”

Stokes and Jonck will be discussing these and some of the more intricate details of customer service and CRM through social media at Social Media World Forum on 1-2 June in Cape Town.

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