The most important use social media is for managing customer relationships.Â Thatâ€™s the word that came down in the recent study from MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte.Â Their 2012 Social Business Global Executive Study and Research Project surveyed almost 3,500 executives from 115 countries.
A series of questions were popped to the survey respondents, ranging from front-line supervisors to CEO types.Â Hereâ€™s the question that put customer relationships at the top of the listâ€¦
The larger companies surveyed tended to be technology-oriented,Â hence the term “social software” .Â Â Yet, substituteÂ ‘social software’ with ‘social media’ and you get the message.Â Â Though the question had a shorter-term horizon in mind (two years), it matters, especially given technology is such an accelerant for change.
Relationships are the key to success
In my experience (similar to yours?) brokering conflict, relationships always seem to play a part.Â And more often than not, itâ€™s a relationship turned sour thatâ€™s at the heart of the conflict.Â Content is not king.
Building on the study findings, hereâ€™s how I see organizations can move forward on the relationship front, and constructively engage conflict when it happens in social forums:
- Focus on collaborative relationships: Business sustainability is linked to long-term relationships.Â Understand and communicate the value of good collaborative relationships with your customers.
- Put social media to work as a relationship builder: Social media is changing the business landscape, and the dynamics of how you relate with your customers.Â Â You donâ€™t need to sacrifice the organization to work with social media.Â Take it slow if you want. Just take it. Â â€śYou may be overestimating the amount of effort it takes to start putting this (social media) trend to work for your organization todayâ€ť (MIT professor Alex Pentland).
- Walk to your talk:Â â€śThe biggest determinants, by far, of whether you will be successful at social business are leadership and culture.â€ť (Charlene Li)Â Train, train, train.Â Support/train your employees, especially front-line workers, in their personal journeys to be customer-focused.Â Imagine how social media and customer conflict might impact your organization three years from now.Â Prepare yourself and your people accordingly. Â Â Good relationship habits take time to develop.
More items of interest
Though not a lot surprised me in the survey report, hereâ€™s a few points I think worth highlighting:
- Mid-size companies are in limbo when it comes to social media?Â â€śWith social tools, small companies are demonstrating that they can appear larger than their actual size; large companies can appear less like corporate behemoths. Midsize companies see the advantages of social tools but, in general, do not see themselves exploiting these advantages for another few years.â€ť
- Chief Information Officers (CIOs) can be terrified of social media. One reason is it is a data security nightmare.Â The previous generation of CIOs lived and died control.Â Social is the opposite.
- Social business helps avoid marketing myopia (customer demand has changed and the company isnâ€™t picking up on the cues) Â in at least 2 ways: 1) use members of an online community to identify shifts in customer preferences and 2) sentiment analysis; e.g., analyze Twitter streams or activity in your online communities, and see the trend.
- â€śBefore you might hear problems with the brand or product through a 1-800 number or complaints or warranty issuesâ€¦ now it is coming from the product development function or listening to what is happening online.â€ť
- Build social relationships on a platform that they (community/employees) are already on and that they know and love; e.g., Facebook.Â Just go with the flow?
Â And youâ€¦ what are you learning about customer relationships in your social business journeys?Â Please share your insights in the comments.
About the author
Ben Ziegler is a collaboration consultant and online conflict management specialist, based in Victoria, on Canada's west coast. Connect with him on Twitter.