The customer has always been king, but social media -- Facebook, Twitter, texts, chat, forums and email -- have profoundly affected customer expectations, giving them more power and influence and changing customer relationship management in ways we could never have imagined even a decade ago.

Companies of all stripes need to change their thinking, reassess their strategies and adopt new tools, or risk alienating customers, and as a consequence, lose market share. How have the ground rules changed and what should companies be doing to manage relationships and retain customers in the social world? 

Don't Put Lipstick on a Pig


Social is a game changer in myriad ways, so don't make the mistake of thinking your company can simply learn to navigate Facebook or regularly update its website and call it a day. Managing customer relationships in a social media environment requires companies to understand and respond to a new customer dynamic as well as new technology.

Ten years ago, it wasn't unusual for a customer to wait a day for a returned phone call and an answer to a question. Now, customers are accustomed to instantaneous communication through social mediums, and expect nothing less from a company's interaction with them. So, companies have to up the ante -- they need to be active on a whole host of social tools like chat, Twitter and SMS, and respond to inquiries promptly.

Every Customer is Social

The trappings of a social interaction -- it's very public nature, immediacy and ability to spread virally -- can prompt companies to treat social customers differently than those that communicate via more conventional mediums (e.g. the telephone). In their quest to avoid negative online reviews and comments (and experience all the attending fallout associated with them) companies often respond to social inquiries more quickly and effectively than conventional ones.

That may be one of the biggest customer relationship mistakes a company can make. The customers that choose to communicate using conventional mediums still live in a social world, and very likely have the same expectations that customers using social mediums do.

Regardless of the channel that customers choose for communications, companies need to view them holistically, and address and treat them all equally. While the social "blow up" or online rant may be more publicly painful than the wrath of a customer on the phone, the impact of either is equally damaging to a company's bottom line.

Knowledge is the Currency of Retention

Since social media raises the responsiveness bar dramatically, it is essential to respond to customer inquiries promptly -- but speed alone is not enough. If companies want customers to keep coming back, they must have mechanisms in place to respond to inquiries both promptly and knowledgeably. Fortunately, the resources you need for knowledgeable responses exist within your organization, it just takes some doing to find, verify and share them.