Is “Social” the Glue that Can Fix B2C CRM?

I am sure there are a lot of vendors, practitioners and users that will disagree with me – but I am not a fan of the state of B2C CRM. To explain, I think that there is a HUGE difference between effectively managing the well documented B2B sales relationships in a CRM system versus the usually anonymous, high volume transaction levels in the B2C world.

I was reminded of my feelings on B2C CRM when I read this E-Commerce Time article that noted how hotel chains are lagging in CRM adoption. I’ll get back to this in a bit.

The reason I feel so seemingly negative about B2C CRM is because up until a few years ago – it was nearly impossible to make use of the consumer data passing through B2C operations. The amount of register data, phone calls around product issues, warranty data, program registration etc. alone was too great for older systems.

And all of this isn’t even anonymous data. I started my analytic career in retail journalism, and would often cover customer loyalty programs. When I actually was able to get people to talk off the record about what kind of customer insight analysis was being performed on all the data these chains were generating – the response was usually something like “Oh, that sounds like a great idea!” There was simply too much data – enough to bottleneck any system 15 years ago.

Now, lets compound that issue with data from web traffic, email campaigns, social media, blogs etc. – and it is enough to make anyone’s head spin.

So, I am not down on B2B CRM in theory – just feel it was hard to do well in practice. And this is a completely different issue than having to give me account data 15 times to Citi when I call them.

But, is there an answer?  I think there is…maybe.

Social media does a lot of cool things. But one thing it does is allow B2C providers to finally have the ability to herd cats, as it were. A lot of B2B folks are still looking at Facebook communities with a slanted eye – and I understand that. These B2B guys already know who they’re dealing with – they only care about more leads.

Now, B2C companies have the issue of finding their user communities, and in them ferreting out advocates and other valuable customers. By finding out a) what sites your target market naturally attracts towards and b) how to create destinations they love, you have made two major strides in doing what B2C CRM could not do well a decade ago.

What social media and networks allow us to do in the B2C world is create a fluid, yet valuable database (akin to the neatly structured relational databases powering B2B CRM) of our customers. Their likes and dislikes are valuable to B2C CRM – just as past purchase history and SLAs are to B2B.

A nice example of even hotel chains “getting it” in terms of social building out their CRM initiative  Gaylord resorts (see, i told you I’d bring this all full circle). I recall CRM magazine editor Lauren McKay having tweeted about wanting cornbread while at a conference at the resort. The resort was following the hashtags and made sure to make its mark on Lauren…a great example of making the most of social to engage, and create advocates out there in your consumer base.

And again, the great thing is that if you’re in the B2C world, chances are your customers are already “out there” in the social realm, just waiting to be invited into an engagement with your brand…

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