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Social customer collaboration sites create and foster external and/or internal user communities that enable the resolution of customers’ issues, from finding information to resolving problems, and help build customer loyalty. In the process, they enable companies to rapidly identify and capitalize on business opportunities and market trends.
Increasingly, customers who are looking to find information, solve problems, and purchase goods and services are turning to social media for help. Whether they join formal or informal user-driven groups, or visit company-moderated social sites where other customers, corporate staff, and subject matter experts (SMEs) can assist them, these buyers want the unique information that comes from crowd sourcing and the open sharing of information.
These social sites can be public and open to all, or they can be private, and by invitation only, such as for market research for consumer companies like BestBuy, and business firms including HP and Verizon. Customers may also use both public and private social sites to air gripes or float suggestions, as well as to gather feedback on a company's products and services. And companies may use them to garner feedback on new offerings, or harvest customers' thoughts about their recent experiences with the company.
Meanwhile, contact center agents faced with challenging support issues are using social intranet sites to obtain help internally from supervisors, colleagues, SMEs, or business partners. They can also use these sites to discuss and find solutions to recurring customer service or sales issues.
All these use cases represent "social customer collaboration." Social customer collaboration sites create and foster external and/or internal user communities that enable the resolution of customers' issues, from finding information to resolving problems, and help build customer loyalty. In the process, they enable companies to rapidly identify and capitalize on business opportunities and market trends.
Frost & Sullivan research shows that the predominant use for social media, including social collaboration, is external, including client/customer communications.
This is not surprising, given how quickly public-facing, "consumer" social media is growing; for instance, the number of Facebook's daily active users grew from million worldwide, and million in North America, on March 31, 2012, to million and million respectively, by March 31, 2013 1. Meanwhile Twitter is reported to have million users and Pinterest million, according to research published in January, 2013 by Envision Media 360, a Web marketing, design, and web development firm 2.
The question for organizations is how best to take advantage of social customer collaboration to cost-effectively enhance the customer experience, and how to fit it into an already complex mix of channels and solutions they have and support.
Key Trends in Social Customer Collaboration
Customer interactions are different when they take place through social customer collaboration rather than more traditional contact center applications. Social collaboration sites are less rigid, discussions are more open, and the participants are freer to enter and leave, compared with other customer support tools; they are also often anonymous.
And in most cases, social customer collaboration site conversations, like those on social media in general, are public, meaning that any material that is posted on them is readily available to everyone. Another Frost & Sullivan research paper discusses privacy in the context of social media 3.
Social customer collaboration is undergoing a transformation, from open, peer-driven sites to company-moderated public and private forums. There are several reasons for the rise of company-moderated social collaboration communities. Companies are recognizing that moderated communities create a commonality of interests that links participants, which fosters further customer engagement; and they find they have better control over messaging and information accuracy when they oversee social interactions relating to their business.
Companies are also starting to offer a mix of public and private social interactions. For instance, B2B firms that have traditionally used moderated social communities that reside behind their firewalls have added presences on consumer services like Facebook and Twitter. Meanwhile, B2C firms, which have tended to rely on consumer channels like Facebook and Twitter, are now establishing on-domain social collaboration communities.
Partners and suppliers also collaborate with companies on social media. Yet Frost & Sullivan research shows that the vast majority of these interactions are with customers. And while there has been a negligible decline in social customer interaction, from percent in 2011 to percent in 2012, there have been steeper drops for partners, from percent to percent, and for suppliers, from percent to percent, over the same period 4. This pattern can be attributed to organization learning curves with social media and social collaboration as they move from being novelties to becoming valuable business tools.
Companies are also using social collaboration to interface directly with CRM systems, rather than using customer interaction management applications. For example, firms are opening Facebook and Twitter as support channels and then routing the messages received on them into their internal help-desk applications for collaboration, solution generation, and training. Contact center agents can log into social collaboration solutions to search internal corporate CRM systems for information on customers, product status, down time, bug fixes, and so on. They can turn questions and answers into internal knowledge base articles in a click, and create tickets in the CRM system for questions that were not answered by the community.
With this interest on the external customer-facing side, not surprisingly there is a degree of convergence between external social community and social intranet solutions. While most social collaboration products have been aimed at internal processes such as work groups, some now permit connectivity to external customers and users, including partners, and allow employee to switch between, but keep distinct, internal and external networks.
Here are several other social collaboration trends:
• Integration between on-domain collaboration communities and other social media sites. As moderated communities rise, competition between company-hosted social communities and consumer sites like Facebook is disappearing. Social collaboration software vendors have created links between their applications and public sites, and/or have added collaboration overlays to their technology. When a customer posts on Facebook or Twitter, his comments are automatically populated on the corporate social collaboration site. Companies are alerted to those comments and can monitor and track the resulting discussion.
• Private social community expansion and morphing. Companies are using private communities for a wide range of purposes, including customer loyalty enhancement and market research. In fact, private communities are emerging as competitors to traditional focus groups.
Private communities offer several benefits, including freer, richer, and more open discussions; increased camaraderie and trust among participants; greater privacy and security; and compliance with confidentiality agreements and regulations such as the U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
But companies are changing the way in which they set up private communities. Some firms can now create ad hoc, on-demand private communities as part of their social intranet solutions. An R&D manager or market research analyst can, with a click, create a group accessible by customers outside the organization and easily get instant feedback.
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