I always enjoy hearing Jeremiah Owyang speak, so at this week's SugarCRM conference I tweeted about being on the way to his session. Little did I know that when I got there my tweet would be projected onto the big screen in a real-time feed of con10 hashtags. Awkward.

But this is exactly what Owyang understands better than most: How social media is changing customer behavior.  

The Sea of Business

"There are two types of companies, and both are trying to catch fish" Owyang began.

We're all too familiar with the first type--those that focus on tools and technologies, and jump from strategy to strategy. The second is a bit more specific. The second type observes, picks the most suitable method, and goes after the really big fish. 

Owyang says the secret to catching these really big fish is understanding where your customers are and how they use the technologies available to them. This data varies depending on region and culture, and can be discovered through surveys, secondary research, etc. 

The Future Trends of CRM

Customer relationship management is important, period. And, much like everything else on the Web and in business, there's a need to change it as we continue to utilize social tools like Twitter and Facebook for communication. 

Owyang brought up the case of Maytag vs. Heather Armstrong, author of the popular blog Armstrong purchased a US$ 1,300 washing machine from Maytag, and it broke within the first week. After a serious support problem, several days of waiting and a still-broken thirteen hundred dollar washer, Armstrong finally called Maytag and said she was so unhappy with their service that she was going tweet about it. Maytag didn't seem to care, so she went ahead and informed her 1 million+ followers of Maytag's suckiness. The next day Jeff Piraino, manager of the executive offices of Whirlpool Corporation in Michigan, called her up, apologized, and sent someone out to fix her washing machine. Boom. Welcome to customer service in the social age. 

Learning Opportunities

It's an extreme example, but with it Owyang makes a very important point: Customers don't care what department you're in, they just want their problem fixed. "If customers are talking to the entire market, you must have a holistic approach," he said. "Customers expect a holistic touch point, and they deserve it."

Real-time Isn't Fast Enough 

That's such a crazy thing to say, but it's true. Johnson & Johnson responded to negative feedback about an ad within 24 hours after it appeared on Twitter, but it was too late. Owyang's solution for being faster than real-time? First, have an advocacy program. An unpaid army of supporters--like Microsoft MVPs--is an excellent way to keep your reputation afloat. 

Secondly, get a social CRM system. Social CRM systems connect the Web with existing CRM systems, enabling brands to better manage their relationships and anticipate customer needs. With the rise of these systems, Owyang says being able to actually predict customer behavior is an upcoming reality. 

"Social CRM represents a continuing journey by organizations to deliver the right customer experience at the right time," he said. "It's not just about technologies. It's not just about business processes. It's fundamentally how to and where to reengage with customers in both social channels and the traditional world."