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(Re-posted from the Customer Engagement Network): More from May’s Customer Engagement Club Director’s Forum on Social Media and Engagement:

Social media has been an instrumental element in a revolution in customer expectations over the past few years. Traditional contact centre routes are being bypassed by many consumers who are preferring to air their grievances or express their delight away from the channels controlled by those providing the products and services. They are instead using the likes of Facebook, Twitter and other platforms to create a dialogue between their peers and suppliers in a space which can appear chaotic and uncontrollable.

The main insights from the day were:

Customer expectations have changed, dramatically. Most major (and many smaller) consumer brands are finding that a siginificant percentage of their consumers are active in the social space and talking about the products and services they buy and use. They expect to be able to contact and engage through these channels, but with this diversity in conversations comes a less formal style and you can be seen to be ‘more human’ and mistakes, if dealt with honestly and openly, should be viewed as a manageable learning experience.

Dont be intimidated by the prospect of engaging your customers and prospects through their channels as well as your own. While some organisations are way ahead of the pack in delivering advice, marketing and after sales service, there are simple actions you can take now which should be cost controllable, measurable and effective in opening the dialogue. The key is to participate in a manageable way. Discuss which channels and platforms are right for you, decide upon how you will engage your audience in a way which is both relevant and complimentary with your services, involve front line staff, and start small – reviewing regularly – and build up a picture of what works for you.

If it isn’t already, mobile is likely to be one of the most important channels for customers in the very near future. As an ‘always on, always with you’ platform, consumers are finding it easier to access information, relationships and messages via their pocket than their PC. This means the ‘where and when’ of their contact with you is as important as the ‘what’. Companies need to think about how this changes their day to day contact – time of day, their location, what their friends are doing – these are not only potentially available to you, but are expected to be considered when contact is made. Again, start with something small and manageable. You probably don’t need to create a whole estate of apps (web access is the fastest growing and most accessible way consumers will interact with you anyway), pick the most appropriate interactions and ‘re-think’ an optimised mobile version of your web site. The 80/20 rule was made for mobile, so keep it simple and focused.

Measurement is key, but keep an open mind about which metrics you gather and the meaning you derive from them. Some activities may be attributable to direct sales or increase in market share, but many won’t be. Some will reduce costs through channel shift, others deliver value in reputation and improved customer service. It is important to develop a strategy for measurement early, and to take the initiative in providing essential reporting across your organisation – from reporting to the board on ROI for the activity, to being transparent, open and inclusive to front line staff who may feel unprepared or even threatened by the changing landscape.

These new interactions, and the significance of these channels will vary across different businesses and stages in the buying and consuming cycle. We don’t all have to be as elegant an operator as Apple in this space, but social and mobile need to be front and centre of your marketing and contact strategy, because that’s probably where your customers are.

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