“Social media is here to stay and using it to reinvent customer relationships will require companies to rethink their traditional CRM approach.” This observation came from a June 2011 report from the IBM Institute for Business Value entitled, “From Social Media to Social CRM: Reinventing the Customer Relationship,” by Carolyn Heller Baird and Gautam Parasnis. That same report notes, “Despite widespread adoption of social media, for most, social CRM is still in its early stages, execution is patchy and concerns about ROI remain.”

It wasn’t long ago when dealers and managers realized how important a good customer relationship management (CRM) system is to their stores. And now, before many of them have even learned to operate all the facets of those systems, a new twist has appeared in the form of social CRM. The definition of social media is generally accepted to be: the creation and exchange of user-generated content. The keyword is “exchange.” Social does not mean constantly posting without engagement.

Online communication has shifted the dealership-to-customer relationship. In the past, when the dealership controlled the relationship, it pushed sales and marketing information to the customer when and how it wanted to reach the customer. Although the dealership is still able to push that same information through many media channels, you won’t find social media high on that list of channels. Today, the online customer has much more control over what information they consume. They choose who to follow on the various social media outlets. They also choose when, where and with whom to interact.

In the future, to keep up, dealers will have to transition from traditional CRM systems and processes to social customer relationship management (SCRM). Dealerships are going to face several challenges in transitioning to the SCRM way of business. The first challenge is unlearning. They have to be able to discard their old habits of focusing on what the dealership wants, consider what the customer wants and incorporate that into their processes. Dealerships that continue to only focus on pushing one-way messages (their agenda), regardless of how great the messages might be, are going to fall further behind. Customers will simply shut them and their messages out.

So, how does social fit within your CRM efforts? CRM is about managing your relationships with customers you have done business with in some manner. If you are going to tackle social within your CRM efforts, understand you are focusing on your current customer database, not fishing for new customers.

Why Incorporate SCRM
Social interactions can impact the buying decisions of your potential customers, which is why it’s important for you to use social channels to connect with your customers and establish ongoing communication. Social online is not that different from social offline. The highly social individual you meet on the street may talk up a storm, ask a lot of questions and be interested in what you have to say. This type of person often shares many details about themselves and doesn’t mind talking to others about you. That same individual exists online, and online this person is often referred to as an influencer. This type of person can influence your business positively or negatively by influencing the people he or she connects with online.

A study conducted by Dealer.com, DriverSide and GfK Automotive Research, detailed in a recently-released report entitled, “The Rise of Loyalty, Advocacy & Influence: Social Media and the New Automotive Purchase Cycle,” surveyed nearly 2,000 U.S.-based consumers who had either recently purchased a new car or were planning to purchase one within 12 months and had started shopping. Of those surveyed, 41 percent saw a post that caused them to consider an additional brand or model when vehicle shopping. The study also revealed that 28 percent “saw a post that caused them to add a dealership to their consideration.”

The study drilled down and examined Facebook, and stated, “Of those who used Facebook during their shopping process, 65 percent said a friend’s favorable post would positively impact their opinion of a brand or vehicle. Fifty-nine percent said a friend’s critical post would negatively impact their opinion of a brand or vehicle.”

The Transition
The easiest way for dealerships to begin integrating social aspects into their CRM process is by monitoring (listening) to conversations on social networks about their dealership. Then, they can begin engaging those customers. There are various tools to help monitor online conversations. If you have only one or two individuals in the dealership monitoring and engaging customers, HootSuite is a robust and inexpensive option which allows you to monitor Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, PingFM, WordPress and mixi all from one dashboard.

Some dealerships have begun integrating SCRM by asking their customers to post reviews about their experience at the dealership through various review sites. This simple request is about building a dealership’s online presence through user-generated content to influence others. Some dealers, especially franchise dealers, have been resistant to this early transition into SCRM because they are afraid they are asking the customer to do too much, since the manufacturer already surveys them. By not asking for review, those dealers are missing a huge opportunity to establish a different level of relationships with customers. Customers expect to be asked to provide feedback for purchases today; they also know it’s their choice to give it.

Beyond the Basics
Dealers need more information to move beyond the very basic aspects of SCRM. As every dealer knows, good data drives good decisions. A great place to begin is determining where your customers are spending their time. You need to be able to tie your customer database back to social networks in some manner. Unfortunately, no one in the automotive space that was interviewed has found a great solution for making this an easy task yet.

“You can use your CRM to solicit your customer base to join you in the social conversation,” said Jonathan Ord, CEO and co-founder, DealerSocket. “Mine your data and look for customers with email addresses. Then ask them if they want to join you on Twitter or Facebook.” For customers who accept the invitation, have their social media contact information on file. “What’s their Twitter handle? What’s their Facebook page? Put that in your CRM,” said Ord. “The whole point of CRM [software] is to have that dashboard view of your customer, and now social is a part of that customer.”

Jeff Cryder, marketing and communications director at Lebanon Ford, Lebanon, Ohio, has created his own method to learn more about the dealership’s customers’ social activities, but the process is not simple. According to Cryder, his process is:

1. Set up a dealership Gmail account (most dealers already have if they set up a Google Places account).

2. Export dealership customer data from the DMS and/or CRM into a CSV file.

3. Delete all data in the file except the fields for customer name and email address, and save the file again.

4. Upload the CSV file into the Gmail address book.

5. Make sure you have your social network sites set up with the dealership Gmail address. Change if needed.

6. Logon to the social networks your dealership uses; then use each network’s tool to find your contacts by importing your Gmail address book.

This process allowed Cryder to connect with more customers via social networks, but it also allowed him to determine where to spend his time and where to market. For example, he found only a small percent of the dealership’s customer base on Twitter, while more were on StumbleUpon. Cryder said this process is a good first step to help determine which social networks to spend time on. He explained, “If the pool of customers on a network is small, it’s not as high of a priority.”

There are a few tools on the market that dealers can use to identify which customers are using different forms of social media. Fliptop (www.fliptop.com) is one such tool that allows an upload of a contact file and connects your email database to social identities (currently limited to Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin). There is a charge of $.10 per profile matched, or a subscription plan is available that automatically and continuously updates social profile data. For those serious about moving forward on social initiatives, the price is reasonable. Fliptop claims it will find matches for 25 to 50 percent of the email addresses submitted. An added bonus of using Fliptop is the ability to export the data, which can then be imported into your CRM system.

After reviewing the data about where your customers spend their time, you will be faced with a decision. Are there enough of your customers on each network to warrant spending time on them at this point in time? As Cryder pointed out, a small portion of his customer base was using Twitter, so their time is better spent elsewhere for now. They can always go back and reanalyze the data in another six months and shift their focus if needed.

Once you know where customers are spending time, you need to dig a little deeper and look for two groups of customers. One is your best customers (which may be evaluated in terms of dollars spent or frequency of visits) and the second group is top influencers. Influencers are those individuals who are usually very active online, are connected to a large number of people and are not shy about talking about those they do business with. Then look to see if you have any overlap in the two groups.

The individuals who fall into both groups are the ones you want as your cheerleaders online. They should be your top-priority customers for SCRM because they can affect your business positively or negatively. If one of these customers is coming to the store for service today, you should want to ensure they have an outstanding experience. How would you know that? If you connect social media into your CRM, even if it is just to key the links to their social media profiles into a custom field, you could certainly flag those customers as VIP.

Since social has the ability to affect every aspect of your customer lifecycle and tackling all aspects of SCRM is likely too much to bite off at once, you need to determine which phase(s) you want to tackle first and develop a plan. Creating awareness should be mandatory for every plan. There is little-to-no direct ROI on this, but every dealer does awareness marketing of some type. How can you expand that within the social networks? Just by being active on them, you build some form of awareness.

If you determine that your customer base is socially active, it is time to consider the ways to incorporate social into your CRM efforts. Rich Crawford, vice president of product management for Dominion Dealer Solutions, stated: “There are opportunities to expand social media into more than posting coupons, tweeting questions and running contests. This is an opportunity for a more complete set of consumer touch points.”

He added, “Lifecycle engagement is now expected … [Social media] encompasses most of the stages in the consumer lifecycle. It affects awareness, interest, engagement, the buying experience, closing, post-transaction satisfaction, upkeep/maintenance, as well as their overall buying and ownership experience. Every part of the cycle is affected.”

As you contemplate tackling the stages identified by Crawford, keep in mind the basics of social interaction. You listen first; then react accordingly. If you walk into a room full of strangers, you don’t rush up to someone and start talking about the phases of the moon. Instead, you would most likely meander around the room, listening to various conversations to gauge what is important to the people in the room and determine how you can intelligently join in the conversation. You would consider what you can add of value to the conversation before you speak.

The same thing has to happen online. You have to bring value to the conversation, or the customer will opt to remove you from the conversation, which is the equivalent of walking away while you are still talking.

Changes in Culture and Processes
It seems like only a few years ago dealers tackled asking every customer for an email address for into their processes. Many are now tackling asking for cell phone numbers for text opt-ins. The next culture change should be to ask every customer to connect with you on social networks. The aforementioned Dealer.com report noted that of the consumers surveyed, “74 percent indicated that they were never asked by a dealer to ‘like’ the dealership Facebook page.” Your customers should know how or where to find you on Facebook, and you should offer something of perceived value to do so.

The Dealer.com report also revealed that, “Thirty-one percent of [the people surveyed] who purchased a vehicle indicated they would likely interact on Facebook with a sales rep from the dealership they purchased from if that ability were available.” The report went on state, “Offering this service would be a great way for sales reps to stay close to their customers and check in to see how the vehicle is working out for them.”

The report offered further insight into the power of social (Facebook in particular) and how it affects car sales: “Eighty-four percent of U.S. vehicle shoppers use Facebook. Twenty-seven percent of them have used or will use Facebook as a resource while shopping for their new vehicle. When this data is extrapolated across the 9.1 million vehicles sold in the U.S. [in 2010], it equates to 2.4 million vehicles whose sales were influenced by social media networks. And 2.4 million is the same as the combined number of 2010 new retail Ford and Toyota sales in the U.S., which demonstrates the breadth of opportunity Facebook presents to automotive dealers and manufacturers.”

Kurt Kubicki, vice president of marketing, Car Research XRM, emphasized the service department as a good touch point for the dealership to request customers to engage the dealership via social. They can position it as a way for the dealership to provide information on recall campaigns [and] service, which the customer would likely perceive as valuable.

In the ideal CRM system, you would be able to enter the customer’s social media handles/links and see their social media stream when you pulled up the customer’s record. The systems aren’t there yet in automotive, but inputting the links into your CRM tool to easily get to a customer’s social media profiles will put you way ahead when technology catches up. Being able to find a customer on social media from your CRM, even if you have to leave the CRM to go to the social source, would certainly make it easier to find a topic to use to establish rapport with a customer.

Having this information in the CRM also allows more than one person to be able to connect with the customer. The customer may like the dealership Facebook page, but the service manager and the salesperson may also want to connect with the customer.

The biggest challenges faced by any dealership willing to begin transitioning from CRM to SCRM are likely to be training and trust. Training your staff would include a social media policy outlining what is and is not acceptable in representing your dealership online. Then you have to trust your staff to use social media appropriately during business hours. That last one is tough for many dealers to swallow. If you are saying, “I can’t trust my employees on social media at the dealership,” the question should be asked: Do you trust them with your customers on the showroom floor? If your employees can be trained to present themselves on the showroom floor in a manner that is acceptable to you, you can train them to do the same online.

Related sidebar: Simple Ways to Tie Social and CRM Together

Vol. 9, Issue 2

About the author
Harlene Doane

Harlene Doane

Editor / Director Of Operations

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