Tuesday, December 27th, 2016 | 8 min read
There’s a shift in the atmosphere, and it’s something far more powerful and important than any upcoming cold weather – at least when it comes to business.
For the first time, brands named customer experience as their top business objective for social, according to Altimeter’s new report, The 2016 State of Social Business.
In fact, 82% of surveyed social strategists said customer experience was “somewhat important” or “very important,” dominating other goals like brand health and even revenue generation.
It’s an El Niño level shift, and one that will be reflected in how brands do business over the coming decades.
Why the change in focus? Perhaps it’s because better customer experience can increase revenue by 5-10% and reduce costs by 15-25% within two years. And by 2020, customer experience is expected to overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. Customers are willing to pay more for a product, if the path to purchase and onward is seamless and contributes significant value.
As consumers, I think we can all agree that experience doesn’t just drive product consideration and purchase – it’s the only thing that really matters. The difference between loyalty and “I’ll take my business elsewhere.”
As brands, we recognize that customer experience is the end goal – but we still don’t know how to get there. And now, more than ever, the onus of delivering on customer experience is falling on digital and social teams. They’re at the forefront of defining and executing customer experiences for consumers everyday. But oftentimes, they’re executing without a unified strategy that emanates across the entire company. They can’t tell who’s a prospect and who’s an existing customer; whether they’ve been targeted with ads; what products they’ve purchased; the list goes on. Campaigns inevitably appear tactical, have a high chance of being poorly executed, and don’t properly map back to larger company goals.
Customer experience, while great in theory, feels like a Sisyphean task to carry out. Nevertheless, if brands can’t figure out how to improve customer experiences through digital and social, their audience relationships will suffer and competitors will beat them to the punch.
Let’s take a closer look at the main obstacles standing in the way, and solutions for how to overcome them.
The problem isn’t getting access to data – with a suite of channels and publishing tools to choose from, brands are inundated with more data than ever before. The issue is figuring out how to collect, analyze, disseminate, and act on that data.
It may seem impossible to make sense of all these numbers – let alone get them in one place. Brands may sometimes feel the need to hire a team of MIT PhDs just to synthesize the data you’ve manually mashed together, but there are solutions out there. Platforms like Sprinklr, for instance, let you track customers’ conversations, identify trends, create target audiences, and publish relevant content all in one place.
By finding the right platform to hook up your digital and social data to your CRM or any other legacy data gathering solution your company leverages, you can automate this data mining process and make the most of your social insights. Otherwise, you’ll waste days (and brain power) manually aggregating data into spreadsheets so you can build out some unnecessarily complex vlookup formulas and/or pivot tables. A drag, right?
Too Much Integration, Not Enough Innovation
To deliver better customer experiences, digital and social teams have to collaborate with other departments, such as e-commerce and advertising (a revolutionary act within some companies). This is crucial for scaling social marketing and care operations, and meeting customers throughout the buyer journey. Altimeter notes that many companies are testing chatbots, payment and tracking activity, and customer service messaging.
However, this is also time-consuming. Teams’ schedules are being eaten up by operational tasks, and they don’t have any time to innovate. In fact, a whopping 79% of respondents are seeing this shift.
The solution isn’t to stop collaborating with these teams, of course; it’s to establish clear governance within the company, regardless of how many simmering inter-departmental rivalries might exist.
As the report states, “The [social] team needs to delegate responsibilities that belong elsewhere in the organization and pick the right opportunities to collaborate with partners.” The team may even need to grant other departments access to their advertising or social platforms. This way, they can get the information they need without having to come to the social team every time they have a question.
Most importantly, these structures will leave time for the social team time to brainstorm new creative strategies, and reach customers in innovative ways.
Altimeter has identified another first in its report: Social strategists identified building new skills as their top internal priority.
With new social formats like 360-degree video, Facebook Live, and messenger apps, keeping up with the latest developments on social isn’t just a way to stay relevant in the eyes of your nieces and nephews, it’s a professional necessity.
Those in the field must identify how their customers are using these tools, and which ones make the most sense for their strategies. They also have to predict which platforms will blow up, so they can be early adopters.
In order to face these challenges, social business teams have a few options. They can refine their own skills, hire new talent, or partner with external companies. Whichever decision they make, it’s important to implement it quickly so social practitioners can connect with consumers where they’re already active.
Social Commerce Confusion
Despite the emergence of social commerce tools like “buy” buttons and chatbots, it can still be difficult to make the sale on social media.
In fact, social commerce sales dipped from 1.9% of online sales in 2014 to 1.8% in 2015. While that’s not a huge drop, it’s significant, given that social commerce was supposed to have become more ubiquitous and user-friendly in that time.
Altimeter points out a few reasons for this, namely that “the starting point for social was connecting people to people, not people to products.” Meaning, social commerce tools are largely disruptive to the user experience, even though they were meant to be intuitive. They’re also still young, however, and many social teams also haven’t been able to scale their commerce strategies effectively yet.
As these social commerce responsibilities get transferred to e-commerce teams, we should see more successes in this space, and hopefully more seamless buying experiences for customers.
A Comprehensive Customer Experience Across Channels
Customer experience is making a breakthrough in social marketing. As a goal, it’s being placed above other top priorities like enhancing brand health and even generating ROI.
To really improve customer experiences, however, social strategists need to overcome many obstacles. They have to adapt to new social commerce tools, integrate with several other teams, and figure out how to gather data from disparate sources. It may seem daunting, but with the right tools, partnerships, and strategies in place, they can start building comprehensive experiences across channels.