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Last week I attended Opus Research’s Conversational Commerce Conference (a.k.a. “C3). The focus of the discussion was mostly on social media and its impact on marketing and customer care, at both the local and national brand levels. While there is a lot of interesting activity using social media for customer acquisition, the biggest surprise for me from the conference was just how much innovation was going on around the customer-care aspect of social.

Pete Blackshaw of NM Incite started out the conference pointing out the “conversational divide” that typically exists between Marketing & Customer Care. Over the past year Marketing & PR have begun to embrace social media channels, but Operations is far behind. As a result consumers are experiencing two different brands. Blackshaw emphasized that to succeed socially the two departments must work together. Often he sees a huge gap between happy employee Twitter profiles and site feedback forms/call center processes. Increased social media activity can create service expectations that customer care is not set to deliver on yet. This challenge can be addressed by realigning incentives for both departments. Blackshaw’s parting advice was that smart players are putting feedback mechanisms everywhere to encourage customer engagement which binds them to the brand.

I was particularly impressed with Spanlink Social Watch, a hosted service that allows customer service people to monitor and respond to social media interactions about their brand. In the demo, we saw how a customer’s tweet complaining about a brand turned into an intricate series of customer-care interactions via Twitter, cellphone and e-mail. Within a minute the customer service person had identified the complaint on Twitter, routed it through to a manager who could respond to the customer via phone and solved the problem. Spanlink (and Cisco) had integrated social media into standard customer-care routines to great effect. For customers who value responsiveness and the personal touch, this blending of call center and tweet center seems like a decent answer.

On the customer acquisition side, I found Marchex’s Call Analytics solution intriguing. The service records inbound calls, transcribes speech to text and provides marketers with keyword analysis to improve conversions. The example Marchex provided was a hotel that found that when a conversation with a potential customer included the words “swimming pool,” conversions doubled. This led the hotel to use the term more in its pitches and to pay special attention to callers that called from ads that mentioned swimming pools.

A panel on the some of the big local deal services, including Yelp, Groupon, MerchantCircle and Pelago (makers of the LBS app Whrrl ), focused on how to bring “authenticity” to conversations with potential and current customers.

  • According to Sumir Meghani of Groupon, the daily deals service is putting a lot more focus this year on customer retention for its advertisers. The success of Groupon promotions creates unanticipated demand (although by now they should be anticipating it, right?) and Groupon sees its role as helping advertisers manage the relationship with customers from the point of acquisition throughout their lifetime. Groupon has had great success with customer acquisition, but facilitating long-term social communication between businesses and their customers seems like an even bigger potential home run.
  • Jed Nachman of Yelp discussed how businesses can effectively deal with negative feedback on public sites such as Yelp. When a complaint is emotional or experiential in nature, Yelp coaches businesses to send the individual a private message and try to handle the matter offline. When a customer is disputing a fact (e.g., the price of a margarita) that might be more appropriate to handle in a public forum.
  • John Kim of Pelago talked about how to use social media in a proactive way. The goal is to keep your customers saying good things about you. He gave the example of how Marie Callender’s identified that its customers (a.k.a. moms) were challenged by how to bring their families together at mealtime. Marie Callender’s built a recommendation service that regularly provided ideas on this theme that created a large amount of social engagement, which Pelago was able to measure at the local store level via activity on the mobile check-in app.
  • Doug Kilponen of MerchantCircle talked about how merchants that are taking control of local social media channels have a big leg up on their competition. Kilponen’s example of a New Jersey plumber who spends several hours/day answering questions on MC has led to huge visibility for the plumber in his market — his profile gets 20K+ page views/month. Conference host Greg Sterling dubbed the merchant “The Car Talk of Toilets.”

When the conversation turned to SMBs and social, representatives from Oodle, Closely, Vendasta and Praized Media, left us with some interesting points:

  • Social is not for all SMBs. It’s for SMBs that depend on relationship marketing, such as real estate agents. If you already have to be social offline for your business, there’s a good chance that you can benefit from being social online. If your organization is feeling the need to add social media to your kit bag, you may want to consider your the inherent sociability of your target audience (e.g., SMB advertisers) and tailor your products to those niches that would be well-suited to it.
  • There is a large amount of potential opportunity being lost from not utilizing social media channels. For example, each day in London there are several people who tweet that they have locked themselves out of their house. Services such as Praized Media’s Needium and other social media monitoring tools are providing ways to engage with these potential customers in non-intrusive ways.
  • According to Perry Evans of Closely, social has become a key ingredient in new local businesses launching. The trend seems to be to run a daily deal to stimulate early demand and cash flow, and then utilize social channels to bring the new customers into a network that will help bring in additional customers. I found this to be one of the more interesting factoids to emerge from the discussion. The concept of on-ramping a new business via social deals seems like an entire business model unto itself and is one that is ripe for the taking.

My two big takeaways from C3:

  1. Successful users of the medium will be those who figure out how to enlist their customers to do their marketing for them.
  2. The advent of social signals marketing’s shift away from the concept of campaigns, which are typically event-driven, toward constant ongoing communication. A lot of the innovation in social/local will be around how organizations can build such a communication strategy in a scalable way.

For further reference you can find my unedited conference notes here:

Beware The Conversational Divide

Where Does Support End & Marketing Begin – And Vice-Versa

Cisco Previews Social Watch CRM Tool

Yelp, Groupon, MerchantCircle & Pelago

Shaping the Conversation: Search, Reputation & P2P

Social CRM for SMBs

Marchex Call Analytics

I also recommend Craig Donato’s Social Commerce & the New Rules for Local Businesses.

If your company is doing something interesting in local conversational commerce, let me know about it.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. So great to hear that companies are starting to really embrace the use of social media to really connect with their customers and not just to market to them. These connections are the real magic of social media in my opinion.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

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