How To Connect With Customers Using Direct-Contact, Social Business Forums

While Facebook, Twitter and the pervasive blog continue to be included in far too many CRM discussions, the fact remains these channels rely more on “push” messaging than the infinitely more valuable practice of collaborative engagement. Further, Facebook and Twitter are typically presented as business-centric venues that diminish the proactive involvement of customers looking to advance their own agendas.

Collaborative Engagement

While “traditional” social media channels have their uses, the most productive interaction with your customers requires an environment where customers have freedom to dictate the terms of engagement. Customers are generally willing to comment, often voluminously, on their experiences as consumers but they must be allowed to do so on their terms, with their own voice.

Enter the “social business network”. According to Forrester Research, the “Enterprise Social Software” market is expected to grow 860% over the next 4 years. Why? Because collaborative social-business forums have proven to foster win-win engagement where all participants can be rewarded for their participation.

For customers, social business forums can become a trusted source of product recommendations, unvarnished product reviews, helpful product insights, solutions to problems, etc. Social business forums also offer customers a tremendous opportunity to collectively leverage requests for product or policy changes. Moreover, support communities, the fastest growing segment of all online social platforms, often provide information that’s otherwise difficult to find or too new to be properly documented by vendors.

Leverage Your Customers

By soliciting your most engaged customers for their input, opinion, and yes, even their criticisms, stakeholders can access priceless, real-time business intelligence that might be too difficult or costly to obtain by other means. Such forthright and unencumbered communication can often produce valuable revenue generating opportunities and/or cost savings solutions.

Further, by opening direct, informal lines of communication with your most valued customers, you give them a venue to freely express themselves and increase their value to you as a customer. Social business forums are also an excellent place for customers to seek and offer solutions to each others problems which can result in higher customer support satisfaction and lowered operational costs.

For business managers, collaborative social environments have proven to generate sales, deepen customer loyalty, provide invaluable customer insights, increase employee autonomy, improve internal company communications, and much more.

Leverage Your Employees

Regardless of economic conditions, most employers work continuously to reduce operational costs and increase employee efficacy. Ironically, these same employees are often overlooked as primary sources of innovation and improvement. The truth is, employees typically have much greater knowledge and insight than employers utilize. Smart employers will work to make that wealth of information readily available.

By tapping into, centralizing and publishing the collective body of knowledge possessed by a company’s workforce, myriad improvements become more achievable.

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