By Manish Sablok, Head of Marketing, North Europe,
Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise

“Before deciding whether to purchase recommended products or services, more than four out of five consumers (81%) will go online to verify those recommendations, specifically through researching product/service information (61%), reading user reviews (55%) or searching ratings websites (43%) according to Cone Online Influence Trend Tracker, 2010.

CRM has had to move on from the old one-way communication of collecting data on customers and pushing product to them, with no real collaboration, and no real relationship-building

In social CRM, the customer is now the focal point. Instead of marketing or pushing messages to customers, brands can now talk to and collaborate with customers to solve business problems, empower them to shape their own experiences and build customer relationships, which will hopefully turn them into customer advocates and a positive social media force.

The challenge for organizations now is adapting and evolving to meet the needs and demands of these new social customers. Many organizations still do not understand the CRM value of social media. Only 7% of organizations understand the CRM value of social media, according to the Brand Science Institute, European Perspective, August 2010. Unfortunately, it seems that a number of big UK retailers are making easily-avoidable social media mistakes. A study of 25 top UK retailers by Auros has revealed that these market leaders aren’t engaging with their customers on social media channels.

Yet social networks help acquire, engage and retain customers for businesses. And here are some of the key reasons why :

•They create communities – social media provides an avenue to build a community around products and services. Through it, customers can be kept up to date with the latest news and events. New and existing customers can interact with each other and voice their opinions. This is all important for creating brand identity and credibility. What's more, with active communities of customers, they can tend to solve many issues and problems by sharing their experiences on these community platform. These can reduce interactions in customer service centres of the enterprises by anywhere from 2-10% directly resulting in thousands of pounds worth of savings.

•They provide customer feedback – whether comments from customers are positive or negative, feedback is always beneficial. The most important thing is to listen, learn and react quickly to the feedback.

•They are very cost-effective – companies can take advantage of social networking quickly and easily. Instead of a multi-million-pounds advertising campaign, an entire community of leads can be available for free. A positive YouTube video or Facebook fan page that goes viral, can give a company excellent exposure - for free.

There are significant market opportunities to be had by embracing social media, but they will only be realised after enterprises go through a series of steps to optimise their social media channels for the customer’s sake. Booz & Co. estimates that sales of physical goods via social channels will reach £3.1bn globally in 2011, with the value of social commerce set to grow to approximately £18.5bn within 5 years. In order to capture a share of this revenue, organisations must have customers' trust within the social space.

We have identified four distinct steps to integrate social media effectively in order to reap the benefits of this estimated growth in social commerce:

•listen to your customers

•prioritise those customers based on their influence in the social space

•engage with them effectively

•integrate social media effectively across the enterprise.

Critically, companies need to implement and integrate the social media across all departments, front- and back-office, to deal with customers – proactively and reactively – through this channel.”