When SugarCRM recently held a conference for its developers, partners, and customers, the Cupertino, Calif.-based software company was gratified to see tweets from attendees about “four quick CRM takeaways from #SugarCon” or “looking forward to bringing many of those solutions” back to their company.
But what made these comments particularly valuable was what SugarCRM could do next. It took only a few clicks in its social analytics software to connect with its customer relationship management (CRM) application, allowing the software maker to immediately continue the conversation with the customers and thought leaders who were taking time to chime in.
Marketers have longed regarded the comments on blogs, Facebook posts, Twitter feeds, and other social media as a potential windfall of insight. Until now, though, that information has largely been used for high-level trend-spotting. In an embryonic movement to make social analytics more actionable, companies including NextPrinciples, Salesforce and Information Builders have released or announced social analytics technology that is integrated with CRM, enterprise resource planning (ERP), and other enterprise applications.
“This allows social analytics to move beyond vanity metrics,” says Ted Sapountzis, head of products and marketing at NextPrinciples, which provided the “Insight-To-Action” platform that was used by SugarCRM.
Leveraging interactive dashboards, companies can use this integrated information to more easily tinker with their marketing messages, track leads, address support issues that arise in social media channels, and improve demand forecasting, allowing their supply chains to be more responsive.
Richard Snow, vice president and research director at Ventana Research, says this type of cross-channel analytics can also help companies personalize their interactions with customers. He points to SAS, the Scandinavian airline, which uses its CRM systems to identify all the passengers who are flying on the airline for the first time.
“They build a profile of the customer using social media and other third-party information,” he says. “When the customer checks in for their flight, they are given a small gift based on what the airline learned about them.” A person whose social media feed indicates an interest in athletics might be given a sports bag, for instance. “When this happens, the passenger is in total disbelief,” Snow says.
Delving into the Context of Customer Chatter
This development isn’t just about connecting social media analytics to CRM, though. Companies are also setting up community platforms to have online forums for customers. In this way, social media can become another channel to present a single voice to the customer. This helps companies ensure the remarks from the sales team, marketing team, contact center and social media team share the same point of view.
But the overriding thrust is to use social media to make better and faster decisions. “Companies want to bring the sentiment from social media into the overall enterprise decision-making process,” says Jake Freivald, vice president of marketing for Information Builders. “When you can get people who call your contact center to give up their Twitter handle, and you can combine their online comments with their phone calls and email messages, you create a golden database record.”
Merging this information also provides greater insight into the value of social media comments. If call center records indicate a customer is generally grumpy, an unfavorable tweet from him might not mean anything is amiss. However, if an important customer, who has delivered nothing but bouquets toward a company, suddenly puts up a mildly carping Facebook post, that may necessitate an immediate response. The context — and importance –of the social media message can only be determined by pulling the customers’ records from various systems together easily and quickly.
Consider the value of marrying Twitter comments with products returns data from CRM systems. “If you roll out a new product and see a large group of people commenting negatively in social media, you might start offering freebies and discounts,” Freivald says. “But if you can see returns have not gone up from those people, you’ll realize you don’t have to panic. If customers are yelling and abandoning, that’s when you have to stop the bleeding.”
The watchword of all this is actionable. Indeed, Salesforce invoked the phrase “making every moment actionable” when it announced a change to its popular Chatter function: Users will be able to act on Chatter updates by such things as forwarding marketing collateral directly from the feed.
Social Analytics Not Just for PR Anymore
The appeal of being able to respond so quickly is obvious. But given that many companies still struggle just to make use of social analytics, it’s no wonder that the notion of integrating this information with other systems can raise eyebrows. Some of the challenges are a matter of mindset. “The vast majority of companies now don’t integrate social media with their go-to-market cycle,” Sapountzis says.
One reason, he believes, is the first wave of social analytics was adopted by public relations or advertising departments. Now he’s seeing more traditional marketing function that deal directly with customers, like field sales, express interest in the technology.
The value of integrating social media with other enterprise systems follows some of the same general rules of using social analytics in isolation. For example, a business-to-business company with only a handful of Facebook followers might not require a system to integrate social media with other enterprise systems. The volume of comments is probably low enough for the process to be done manually.
And as with any type of integration, there are plenty of data quality issues. A company needs to understand the same person might be represented as JDSimmons on Twitter; as John D. Simmons in the company’s payment system, and as Jack Simmons in the company’s loyalty program.
“It goes beyond cleansing the data,” Freivald says. “There is a lot more need for a centralized approach to master data, so you can understand the total relationship, and know all the nicknames and variants of the customer’s name.”
How companies collect, manage and use the data from various channels brings up other ticklish issues. For example, a highly-regulated company liked Coca-Cola — which is governed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration –might face unique constraints in how they use information from social media. But legal issues are only one part of the puzzle.
“Companies need to ask themselves how they want to manage their relationships with customers,” Freivald says. “Even if you ask for someone’s Twitter handle, you might want to communicate that you will only use the information for internal purposes and not spam them. That will vary depending on the company and its customer culture.”
There will be a lot of obstacles and skepticism to overcome before integrating social analytics with enterprise systems comes close to being a common practice. “But the focus on social media analytics is huge now,” Snow says. “And we’re going to see a lot more companies try to link up all the data to get a 360-degree of their customers.”
Joe Mullich, a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.