The recent Gartner 360 CRM Conference held in Los Angeles dealt predominantly with social customer relationship management (CRM).

It is crucial for business organisations to be proactively present within the online venue- Hadrian Sammut

The choice of social CRM as the central theme of this year’s conference should come as no surprise; according to a recent Gartner survey of CEOs, respondents rated CRM as the top priority in terms of opportunities for business growth, followed by general modes of e-commerce. Moreover, the Gartner survey found that enhancing customer acquisition, improving customer satisfaction and growing customer revenue are the top three CRM goals for 2012.

During the conference, Gene Alvarez, Gartner’s research vice-president, declared that CRM is today “at a crossroad and social CRM is the way forward.” Alvarez was bold enough to label the phenomenon as “the next big thing, following in the footsteps of newsprint, radio, television, the web and now social media.”

Alvarez invited his audience to acknowledge how “in the beginning, it was just one sales person interacting with one customer. These days an entire community is reviewing your products and posting comments.” The question therefore is: are business organisations capable of effectively interacting with user communities with the same ease that they are used to with individual clients? Moreover, it is becoming increasingly crucial for business organisations to be proactively present within the online “venue” where they are being scrutinised and discussed by their own clients.

According to Gartner, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of their influence over their providers. The practise of setting up a flashy corporate website and pushing (highly endorsed) information is not pertinent with respect to modern consumers. Alvarez reminded his audience that it takes far more than a website today to effectively succeed commercially. “The value of social CRM is to get people interacting and working for the brand,” he explained, highlighting the growing number of traditional websites and advertisements that combine a push towards a Facebook or Twitter page where interested persons can “find out more”.

To date the traditional corporate website has been largely aimed towards a generic, largely universal audience and is generally focused towards the promotion of a product or service. In contrast, social CRM is focused more upon the development of the medium – a community of individuals – and relatively less upon the message that needs to be disseminated.

“Forming a community is challenging,” warns Gartner. It requires careful planning and setting it up requires particular attention. The ideal community is not necessarily what a business organisation hopes for; less product or service-focused and relatively more of an online convergence that embodies something that individuals wish to be part of. Consequently, having users declare they “Like” a community is just a minor attribute towards active association and positive involvement with the business.

“But is it worth it?” is a question most business organisations ask. Gartner describe how the upside for social media success is huge. The company predicts, for example, that by 2015, 10 per cent of the issues currently resolved by customer service representatives will be dealt with by online communities. Members of a community will assist each other to resolve situations that one or more of them would have experienced and resolved previously.

During the same conference Gartner predicted that by 2015 social marketing processes will influence at least 80 per cent of consumer discretionary spending; 80 per cent of businesses will be suffering revenue loss for lack of an effective web strategy or successful presence; analytic applications, aimed at understanding customer interactions with the organisation, will be one of the fastest growing areas of business intelligence; 70 per cent of social media initiatives will fail due to the lack of a well-envisaged social CRM strategy; 50 per cent of online sales will result from effective social presence and mobile applications; such social presence applications will serve advertisements and/or provide services based on a recognised and specific geographic location of the target audience; context-aware computing will drive new consumer spending and, Gartner estimates, will enhance advertisement revenues to more than $140 billion annually.

“Context will be as influential to mobile consumer services and relationships as search engines are to the web,” predicts Alvarez.

During the Gartner 360 CRM Conference, Bill Patterson, of Microsoft Dynamics CRM, underlined the importance of social CRM when he declared that “businesses need to engage and interact with their customers in real-time to remain competitive in their industry and sustain a positive brand presence. Social networking represents an opportunity to build mutually rewarding and candid relationships with those customers.”

It is clear that when it comes to social CRM the key question is no longer “why?” as much as “when?” The answer is unquestionably “now”.

Mr Sammut is a business solutions advisor with the local firm iMovo which specialises in ‘Know Your Client’ assignments based on Microsoft Dynamics CRM and QlikView business intelligence tools.

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