What can social CRM software help your business accomplish?

Fully understanding what social CRM software helps you accomplish is key to choosing the best platform for you. Learn what key functions you should look for in a social CRM tool.

Choosing a social CRM platform is a highly customized process, more so than most software selection tends to be. Technology's breakneck pace has created new conundrums in enterprise planning and operations. Innovations in tools and processes arrive so quickly that solutions seem to appear before we even knew we had a problem. That's very much the case with social CRM software -- particularly the way in which these systems leverage social network data to help create dynamic customer engagement.

What exactly does social CRM software help you do?

If you're unsure of exactly what you're going to use a new tool set for, how do you decide which features of the available products are important? This is an important puzzle to solve, because investment in social CRM isn't trivial: Even with affordable upfront costs, the time and effort to deploy it fully can be considerable.

Despite the constantly evolving technical aspects of social CRM and its inherently customizable nature, there are, in fact, certain core functions that your business should look for in social CRM software. Understanding how these functions help your business achieve its customer engagement goals is essential to determining the features you need in a social CRM platform and, ultimately, what the right platform is for your organization. These key functions include:

Initiate productive social engagement with existing customers.
This helps your organization to improve its existing products and/or services by gathering key intelligence on how they are perceived. Gathering direct feedback from customers may also affect how your products and/or services are altered or updated in the future. Social media monitoring and multichannel social integration tools help to make these interactions easy and informative.

Listen in on online consumer discussion about the brand -- and its competitors. While customer surveys and service desk feedback are always helpful, data gathered passively from social media has an authenticity and frankness that can't be obtained any other way -- and data about competitors, obtained in this manner, even more so.

Deploy enthusiastic customers as brand evangelists to bolster marketing. Social media provides a highly efficient, single-step mechanism for detecting brand enthusiasts among the customer base and recruiting them to help spread the word about products or services. Endorsements from these customers will be taken as seriously, if not more so, than a popular spokesperson -- at a fraction of the cost.

Outsource consumer research to consumers themselves. It is often the case that consumers already have strong ideas about the next step in the evolution of a product or a service, beyond what enterprise leaders might think. Social channels provide a means of discovering which consumers speak up about their needs, prompting these enterprise leaders to go further in their thinking. This ultimately benefits the product in question.

Develop multichannel marketing with maximum efficiency. It's prudent to cultivate the proliferation of paths to the customer, and redundancy is, in large part, a necessity. But it's also true that different channels reach different target customer groups, and the relative effectiveness of individual channels will vary. Social CRM software features built-in usage analytics for many of its channels, making it possible to fine-tune both message and invested resources channel by channel, for maximum efficiency.  

Track the success of marketing campaigns. Marketing campaign success presents in layers. Social CRM adds useful data unobtainable elsewhere: A campaign's impact on sentiment, passively gathered once it's in progress, can not only be measured in real time, but reacted to immediately, fine-tuning with precision as the campaign moves forward.

Empower customers to engage in peer-to-peer support. Since customers now interact with one another online about products and services anyway, it makes sense to exploit this interaction by encouraging it in the direction of shared support. Social CRM provides methods for identifying issues and questions and alerts to focus a response.

Radically improve the customer experience. Products have lifecycles, but customers do, too. This is one of the often-overlooked lessons of CRM. Social CRM closes the loop in making the customer feel heard, in both sales and service, by reacting swiftly and precisely to both direct and indirect customer feedback regarding their experience.

The potential of social CRM to develop actionable insights can't be overstated.

Develop new and better sales leads. CRM has always been a superb lead generator, but the added dimensions of social CRM make possible more highly refined targeting of potential customers. It does this by providing an enhanced understanding of consumers' general buying patterns, changes in the consumers' personal demographics and the consumers' socioeconomic proximity to the company.

The potential of social CRM to develop actionable insights can't be overstated. However, the breadth and depth of this list means the range of social CRM platforms available is likewise extensive and extremely varied. They come in all shapes and sizes, and each offers its own take on social CRM functionality. These factors make it difficult to choose the best platform for your organization.

Which questions should you ask to improve your search?

Doing the tough, upfront work of examining existing customer contact and engagement, researching potential channels, figuring out potential uses for new available data and expanding engagement beyond customers to consumers in general is a journey from vague possibilities to well-defined requirements. There are additional questions your organization should reflect on to make the best possible choice when purchasing social CRM software, including:

Where do we need to improve? This question needs to be asked across the enterprise, not just by sales and marketing. Most companies have some customer support resources in place: Where do they fall short in engagement? And many companies invest considerably in product research or ongoing development and improvement of services: What is the customer's involvement, beyond traditional surveys? Generating an upfront list of existing points of customer contact and evaluating the quality of those contacts is a great starting point for identifying the most useful social CRM functionality.

How do we engage customers today? Once it's determined where customers are being engaged, it's important to ask how they are being engaged: via email, surveys, mail, text messages or targeted marketing? This is a very handy way of determining where social CRM might be a natural fit for enhancements.

Where else do our customers hang out? If they're getting your texts, they're probably on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+ -- or all of the above. Social CRM platforms work with some, and sometimes all, of these social networks. It's important to select a platform that comfortably interacts with the social networks your customers are most likely to be engaged in.

What more can this contact provide? Once the list of customer points of engagement is enhanced with new channels of contact, this question should asked at each and every point: What could we get from this contact that we don't get today?

Where is the customer excluding us? It's important to ask where customers engage each other, but not the enterprise. This is one of the major uses of social CRM: to establish not only new ways of communicating with customers, but to see what can be learned by listening to them communicate with each other. If you can eavesdrop on your customers, there's a wealth of potential data to be found.

Where will we put it? New technologies and processes almost always must be integrated with existing ones. This isn't a necessarily a tough problem -- just a very detailed one. A big percentage of the unknowns are addressed in the feature lists: Which social networks do they crawl? How is data aggregated? What are the available reporting formats, and how is data exported? While it's important to be meticulous, it's also important to realize that this question of how to integrate new services is a common challenge. Don't let integration concerns keep you from choosing the social CRM platform that's right for your business.

So, which product is right for your business?

Platform selection ultimately comes down to your organization's priorities. Of the potential improvements that have been discussed here, which ones are most important to your business, and how do they affect your desired features list? A great business tool for this situation is the MoSCoW Requirements Prioritization Technique. It will help you to produce a first-to-last ranking of processes new to your business, making it easier for your organization to assess the scope and risk of their implementation.

Whether using the MoSCoW method or a preferred internal review process, once you've identified the processes important to your business, the next step is to find a social CRM platform with features that align with your needs.

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