Seven Steps to Successful Social Customer Interactions

“Business executives and IT executives need to spend more time thinking about how to make online interactions consistent with real-life interactions they have with their customers.”

by Christopher Sowa, July 2013

With more information and interactions moving online, the world is becoming more and more like a small town. Information about you is available to those who are geographically distant, and suddenly, you have the ability to have “local” interactions with experts or friends across the globe.

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Despite the fact that many of the same social rules that apply in person apply online, many IT executives are unsure about the best path forward for managing online social relationships. Commonly, IT executives are on the “hidden in the sand” path. At a recent engagement, I received chuckles when I mentioned online social tools in the context of their customer experience roadmap. Employees were forbidden from going online or using their mobile devices during work for any reason. Even the idea of listening and protecting their brands online seemed scary to this team.

The second path executives are on is the “customer is my prey” path. For these companies, the online domain is viewed as a place where customer interactions are solely equated with sales, and customer information should be sold to the highest bidder. Imagine the repercussion of this mentality in real life—if, whenever I saw employees of my local credit union at the store or a barbeque, they tried to sell me something or sell my banking information to others in the neighborhood. The same is becoming true online. Customers begin to avoid all interactions with organizations that harass them. With people also starting to protest what they see as “big brother” government and companies abusing their information and privacy, the ramifications of not paying attention to these issues will be severe.

Business executives and IT executives need to spend less time thinking about online social interactions and more time thinking about how to make online interactions consistent with real-life interactions they have with their customers. Executives should think about their cross-channel social interaction platform, including online social networks, e-commerce, mobile, and in-person interactions, by making sure they are covering the following key elements:

  1. Listen. Get to know your online communities and key influences by leveraging technologies that cut out the noise and can help you hear important customers and influencers across social networks. This will allow you to learn how to better improve your products and more effectively engage your customers.
  2. Protect your company’s online reputation. Just like in real life, if someone is spreading misinformation about a company, executives need to have monitoring capabilities and the ability to quickly react. Executives also need to have the correct infrastructure put in place to foster expert communities to help refute misinformation and to properly position solutions.
  3. Earn the right to an online relationship. (or any business relationship) by providing valuable expertise that can help your customers with their problems or decisions, when they need it. Respond quickly to complaints or concerns that your customers have about your products.
  4. Treat customers in the same manner whether the setting be online, offline, or across channels. If you have high-value customers, they expect the same royal treatment whether they interact with you on the phone or post to one of your online forums.
  5. Leverage analytics to integrate structured and unstructured data to help you tier important customer relationships. and create consistent rules for interaction. Much the same way people prioritize amongst offline relationships, executives need to decide which types of relationships are going to be most mutually beneficial over the long term and where to invest.
  6. Engage your employees. As Oracle President Mark Hurd recently said in a webcast, “Social is not only about the engagement with your customers. It is about engagement across your enterprise, with your employees, and perspective employees.” Employees are the gateway and the glue to key social relationships. Leveraging online collaboration tools can cement this glue and increase productivity up to 25 percent.
  7. Create and publish a social set of ethics for customers and employees. This set of ethics should include how you interact online and offline. It should also cover items on how you view customers’ personal information and steps you can take to safeguard relationships. A set of ethical guidelines is particularly important because many online social norms are still evolving.

New tools for managing social interactions across channels can help create the same kinds of excellent in-person relationships we experience at our local stores. For this reason, the path forward should be a familiar and mutually beneficial one based on leveraging strong social relationships.

Christopher Sowa is vice president of Oracle Insight and co-head of Oracle’s Global Business Intelligence and Exalytics Strategy Pillar.

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