General Motors is 107 years old, but its social program is very 2015, thanks in large part to Whitney Drake. She’s social strategy and care leader at the Detroit-based automotive giant.

Social "allows us to engage with customers, listen, get feedback and respond to concerns,” she explained during a recent CMSWire webinar, “Is Social the New Customer Call Center?” 

The old marketing model of just pushing messages to a customer, Drake added, is just that — old. “Social gives us an opportunity to listen and get resolutions. It keeps our customer at our center,” she said.

The 'New Marketing'

Drake spoke on the webinar with Oracle’s Angela Wells, senior outbound product manager, and Natalie Petouhoff, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.

Enterprises who fail to embrace social media miss opportunities to connect with customers, act authentically and solve problems in real time, they said.

“Customer service is the new marketing,” Petouhoff said. “Customers are reading, lurking and making buying decisions on social."

Petouhoff cited her own personal buying journey for a product as an example. She read an online forum, where customers were talking about the product she had considered. With more than 1,000 reviews to filter through, she decided it was the right choice for her.

“Customers are talking to other customers and saying it like it is,” she said. “It’s something you need to respond to and try to figure out the best way to respond.”

Get Social

Enterprises should “take social customer service seriously,” Petouhoff said, citing the fact that 2 billion of the world’s population is active on social (even though most of them are primarily monitoring the feeds rather than actively posting).

Petouhoff cited the “1-9-90” rule: 1 percent of those on social media are actively posting, another 9 percent respond to those posting and the rest (90 percent) do not post or respond but watch everything.

Petouhoff coined this 90 percent as the “Witness Factor.” Remember, she pointed out, she didn’t post to that online product forum but did end up making a buying decision just from reading comments.

Brand Land

“And it’s more than just resolving issues, Petouhoff said, adding, “it’s really about driving brand reputation.” 

Enterprises must make social a “CEO-level conversation,” Petouhoff continued, adding, “Business are authentically talking in social,” she said. “Just look at companies that aren’t doing that. We’re going to see more and more companies go out of business.”

The ways companies respond on social could make or break businesses, she predicted. Be genuine, offer resolutions and don’t be afraid to say, “We’re sorry. We screwed up.”

“Companies need to be human,” Petouhoff said. “You can’t respond like a perfectly written press release.”

Of course, there's the downside of social — getting in brand trouble, even from unlikely places. So messaging and response is important.

When Social Works

screenshot from cmswire-oracle webinar on social relationships with customers

Naturally, a good tool can help enterprises manage their brand and respond to customers on social media. Oracle’s Wells highlighted some recent advancements from her San Francisco-based provider’s platform:

  • Peer to peer self service social community
  • Enhanced automation, contextual workflows
  • Extended Oracle Social Relationship Management (SRM), advanced listening engine for private data sources
  • Twitter enriched data and Oracle SRM listening algorithms for next-generation service solution

Oracle SRM customer General Motors is winning customers on social. Drake discussed the customer who posted in social circles his disappointment because he missed a Labor Day 72-hour sale. The social team reached out to him, had him come in for a test drive, and the prospect ultimately became a customer — and even upgraded his purchase.

You can also win in social internally. A Canadian GM shop, monitoring an online forum, had discovered a problem among customers. It reached out to its American counterparts and found a resolution for the customers in the Canadian forum.

Ultimately, listening on social may not solve an immediate problem — but it can make you better listeners to your customers, Petouhoff said.

“You can get insights on product development,” Petouhoff said. “You can see what’s relevant to your customers. Listening to your customers makes it so much easier to make marketing campaigns relevant.”

Title image by Sylwia Bartyzel