"...to organize, automate, and synchronize business processes—principally sales related activities, but also those for marketing, customer service, and technical support. The overall goals are to find, attract, and win new customers, nurture and retain those the company already has, entice former customers back into the fold, and reduce the costs of marketing and customer service."1It begs the question: why can't consumers use technology to maintain ties and improve their experiences with the companies they buy from? Why can't you use social media to nurture your relationship with a company, improve the quality of service and support you receive, and entice them to do what they can to keep you as a customer? Wouldn't it be nice to get the services and products you really want, just the way you want them?
Well, I believe you can. I call it cRM with a lowercase "c", because I am the customer trying to manage the relationship from my end. Admittedly, it's the less powerful position to manage from, but it's definitely not powerless.
Here's a simple-to-implement, highly anecdotal example of Company Relationship Management (cRM) involving me, one company, Twitter, and Blogger. Please, try this at home.
I spent months comparing service plans, hardware selection, and reading customer reviews before I chose Koodo as my mobile phone carrier. If you read my original article about my experiences with this company, you'll know I wasn't completely sold on them at the time I signed up. It was calculated risk — one I was willing to buy my way out of if things went as badly as I feared they might, but not without blogging and tweeting in order to broadcast my experiences to others as best I could. And I did.
When I received some unexpectedly brilliant customer service from a representative at Koodo's webstore, I tweeted about it. Koodo noticed — well, one of their reps did, and even called my house to thank me for the tweet. Quite chuffed by the near-instant response, I blogged about the whole experience soon afterwards, and sent a greeting / notification email to email@example.com for good measure. This is (apparently) the email of Kevin Banderk, "Chief Koodo Officer" at Koodo Mobile (a division of Telus).
Now this communication wasn't responded to by Kevin, nor anyone else: the first and only time so far that I've failed to connect positively with Koodo. Perhaps it was a simple oversight, but I consider it a major blunder given that it's the address that Koodo specifically requests feedback to, in their customer welcome letter.
Anyway, because I'd successfully touched based with someone within the company who was aware of Twitter and thankful for the exposure they'd received on it, I tried to follow the company via @koodo and @Koodo_Mobile. No luck: these are both dormant accounts.
Note to Kevin and other Koodo/Telus execs: This reflects badly. It's the antithesis of the 'young, free, thrifty and connected' image you're trying to portray with your cute and irreverent ad campaigns. Given the target demographic your brand is after, I think engagement with social media is absolutely essential. It's the kind of visible presence and one-on-one access your users/fans/customers expect to exist. Use these accounts sparingly if you will — to hype upcoming specials before they're announced anywhere else, for example — but use them.
Undaunted, I continued to search and eventually stumbled across @koodoDave, a website employee who'd been drumming up business and offering individualized support since June `09. Now I'm not sure what the deal is with Twitter search, but when I search for him now, he still doesn't appear in the results. Odd, but if you're a Koodo customer reading this, I'd recommend following him. He followed me back quite quickly, and when I needed him he was as willing to help as his tweet history suggested.
Specifically, I was a little troubled at missing the Christmas special that Koodo was offering because I'd signed up a month too early. Initially Dave did point out that the special shouldn't be a surprise; it's something that mobile companies offer each year. As someone who'd spent the entire 00's cell-free, this was news to me. But without any whining or arm-twisting from me, Dave offered me my choice of some free accessories, free shipping included — not as much as I would have received had I waited a month to sign up, but certainly much more than I was entitled to (technically: nothing). Good deal.
Subsequent email correspondence between the two of us let me know that word of my interactions with the original customer service rep (Aleem) had gotten around, and it gave me the opportunity to share with Dave that my one simple blog post about Koodo was generating all kinds of Koodo keyword traffic to my site. Dave was interested in gathering more specifics about this to pass to the higher-ups. Come to think of it, I still owe him an email back about this... I guess my own cRM quality can slip from time to time. Hopefully Dave isn't blogging about it. :)
The take-away from this experience is that it's not only possible, but very simple to use free social media tools to praise or critique the companies you do business with. While it may seem a bit of a stretch to think that you could exert any kind of leverage with a corporation like Telus, Bell or Rogers using a free, online service — you can. My first recommendation is that you quit thinking about businesses in terms of nameless, faceless commercial entities. Behind the slick and schmaltzy advertising, and inside of the brick and glass buildings are ordinary people like yourself that you can connect with. You don't need to know their Twitter account: to this day I don't know if Aleem is even on Twitter. But my sincere, verbal appreciation paired with a tweet-as-promised set something in motion between me and my mobile brand.
It's good for me: I feel like I can approach them with any query at any time, and know that I'll be helped quickly and courteously. But this is also good for Koodo: So long as I have that feeling of connectedness, what are the odds that I'll sever my tenuous 'no-contract' arrangement with them to do business with one of the new Canadian market competitors like WIND Mobile or DAVE Wireless? Pretty low, actually. Additionally, every bit of positive social media press that Koodo can stimulate in response to this type of individualized, accessible support can only help to improve the ratio of positive to negative articles floating around on the web.
So, the next time you're on hold, on-line, or in line, why not give some thought as to how you might initiate a new relationship with your retailer/e-tailer. Creating and distinguishing your personal brand can transcend beyond just developing a dedicated following on Twitter or Blogger. A belief in your own power to be influential, paired with the action of writing about what you've experienced (even if it's only 140 characters) can transform you from an anonymous consumer to a valued customer.