Are Social Networks Becoming The Infrastructure Of Industry?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Social networks have evolved rapidly over the past few years. In the last decade tools like Myspace were primarily used for sharing pictures and messages with friends – the social aspect of the network was the primary reason to use it. Facebook took over and sharing cat videos remained an extremely popular pastime.

But now companies are using these same networks to interact with customers. Brands got used to watching out for content on blogs and then the review sites, as well as tweets and Facebook. The past half a decade or so has seen an enormous change in the way that corporate and customer relationships work and it looks like Facebook may be about to define the next wave of change.

The Facebook Messenger app has been around for a few years now. It’s a useful tool for keeping in touch with friends and in many ways removes the need to know the phone number of your friends because messages are all relayed through the Facebook system – even though the app functions entirely separately from the main Facebook app.

A new development called “Business on Messenger” is aimed at making the app a hub for customers and companies. Companies will be able to take orders on Messenger, send out order confirmations, send shipping status updates, track deliveries and customers will be able to directly send questions to sellers.

All this functionality will be offered to companies to use in a flexible way that works best for their business. For the customer these developments are welcome. Facebook is encouraging developers to build new apps around the messenger API so it looks like companies will be able to create a complete customer messaging system using the building blocks Facebook makes available.

In some markets the WhatsApp messenger has already become an important tool for brands to talk with customers – and Facebook already owns that app. I fully expect the two messenger services to be blended at some point, with the addition of all these added features that will make this a real hub for customers interacting with companies.

Will companies buy into the service from Facebook? I expect that they will because to build this infrastructure internally is very expensive. The end result is that companies will be able to get a very low cost customer management system, but it will mean that more customers will be tied into using Facebook – whether they want to or not.

Will Social Networking Transform Customer Loyalty?

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

In my last blog, I mentioned that social networking technologies are changing how many companies use CRM. Opportunities are created to have a much deeper relationship with customers than was ever possible before and this goes far beyond just CRM alone.

But what is it that any company really wants? Why do they invest in all these technologies in the first place? There are many reasons, such as improving the customer experience, but possibly the most important is to generate customer loyalty. It costs far more to attract new customers to your business than to just keep the existing ones happy, so managing loyalty is important.

And as customers we all know about loyalty schemes. You probably have loyalty cards for your favourite hotel chain, airline, coffee store, bookstore, and supermarket. Every type of business tries giving away points and prizes to encourage loyalty.

The problem is that academics now believe that our present focus on loyalty through loyalty programmes doesn’t work very well. Take airlines for example. There are really only three major airline alliances, Star Alliance, One World, and SkyTeam. Serious business travellers just take a membership with all of them so they always collect points regardless of the airline used.

Most people use the supermarket that is closest to their home rather than travelling much further because they have a loyalty card from another store. Most of the time these loyalty cards don’t really create very much brand loyalty.

Smart companies today are looking at their CRM data and using a ‘buzz monitoring’ platform to analyse the social networks and then interacting with customers based on the information they can glean from the customer behaviour data. In effect, what is happening is that companies who know their customers well are able to use the data to create customer loyalty gifts and rewards that are targeted at the individual customer – not just points that every customer earns.

This is a big change in behaviour for many companies and it will be the back office technology that drives the information for this to work, but it is a natural shift. Customers have greater expectations on brands today and the first time a brand responds and rewards you in a unique and individual way will create a ‘wow’ moment for many customers.

It is these interactions based on data that will drive customer loyalty in future, not loyalty cards. Has any major brand ever rewarded you based on their knowledge of behaviour and how did that make you feel?

Mixing Social Networking with CRM

IBA Group
Mark Hillary

Social media is maturing and becoming an important part of the supply chain for many businesses. In areas like the media it is clearly a strong communication channel between content creators and their customers, but in other industries there has been an even deeper use of the technologies.

Take retail as a good example. For decades retailers have combined loyalty cards with CRM technologies to try predicting customer behaviour and to drive loyalty to certain products. There are many examples of retailers knowing individual customers better than their own family because of the data collected during their shopping trips.

A famous example is the US retailer Target sending discount coupons for products a new mother might want to a teenage girl. Her father was outraged, but he apologised to the retailer when his daughter confessed that she was in fact pregnant. The CRM system knew it before the father.

But traditional CRM has always relied on actual purchases and visits to the store. There had to be an actual interaction with a retailer to generate data that could then be analysed. With social networks and social media uploads customers provide information on their likes, desires, and preferences without even visiting the store.

This is a fantastic opportunity for retailers who can integrate social channels into their existing CRM. In addition to actual purchases, discounts and offers can be tailored to include preferences and the general sentiment of an entire group of customers.

It does require a different approach. Some kind of community management is usually needed for the retailer areas – such as the corporate Facebook page – and new software capable of ‘buzz monitoring’ other areas of the Internet has to be applied. But the opportunity for retailers of knowing their customers even better through the use of better technology systems is clear.

The same opportunity exists across all sectors – try searching for online discussions about your company name or products today. I’m sure you will find people talking about them. Now the question is, are they saying good things and if not, what do you do next to engage those customers?

Are you engaging with customers using social networking and how different is this data-driven approach to the old idea of a customer service team?